Rarely does a film disturb molecules to such an extent that a brooding sensation follows for days to come. Such was the experience upon viewing Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Tilda Swinton stars as Eva Khatchadourian, whom we see at three different points in her life. We first meet her after a traumatic event has occurred. What it is exactly is mysterious and is slowly revealed through a constant stream of flashbacks. We also see Eva when she first meets her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly). They have a baby which Eva has an instant disconnection with and as this baby grows up, the disconnection persists.
Red is sprayed over the film as if a red bulb has been placed behind the screen. The opening images set out the tone where Eva floats through a crowd blazoned with red tomatoes at La Tomatina, symbolic of her constantly drifting throughout the film. Red naturally symbolises anger and sinful activities, and of course represents such activities here, especially scorn, drawing up an image of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.
Ramsay’s work is haunting, disturbing and horrific. Her scenes are played out with such sublime subtlety that it is a genuine shock when these quiet scenes have led to terrible and ghastly acts. Having only seen one of Ramsay’s earlier short films Gasman, it seems evident that there is a pure and specific voice that comes through in her work.
Swinton is unsurprisingly wonderful and gives another earth shattering performance as Eva. Each breath she takes as current-day Eva is traumatising, and her face is completely compelling especially within the revelation scene at the high school.
Ezra Miller plays Kevin at age 15, and is terrifying. His talents are on full display, but there does seem to have been an attempt to make Kevin as purely evil as possible. Questions of nurture versus nature are evident, but do not seem to strongly hit the nerve as potentially possible. One successful and engrossing moment catches Eva in five-year-old Kevin’s calculating and manipulative grip, and it is here especially that we see the scheming, controlling and dangerously dominating nature of Kevin.
Reilly is fine as Franklin, but really does fade into the background in the presence of Miller and Swinton. It is simple yet Lionel Shriver’s bestselling book has been successfully adapted into an incredibly moving and unsettling film thanks to Ramsay (who also co-wrote the screenplay along with Rory Kinnear). Its haunting and numbing mood is gripping and ubiquitous. Kevin lingers long after the film has finished.
We Need to Talk About Kevin opens in Australian on November 17th through Hopscotch Films.