23 November 2011


You have to hate any film title that gives people a legitimate excuse to use the most obvious pun that comes to mind, especially when discussion of We Need To Talk About Kevin is, by the nature of the film itself, a serious business. Still, as the film makes its way around the country, having somehow dodged wide distribution despite sold-out screenings in my local arthouse cinema, it's time for me to throw in my twopenn'orth as well.

The script, by Rory Kinnear and director Lynne Ramsey, takes great pains to work from the first-person focus of Lionel Shriver's novel, and so the film largely takes place around, and from the point-of-view of Eva Khatchadourian. She's stigmatised by society for the actions of her sociopath son, Kevin, and through seeing the various points in her life, it is clear that she has failed to connect with him, if not for lack of trying. Though her husband, Franklin, adores their son, the antagonism between Eva and Kevin can only come to a devastating conclusion.

The structure of the film is really something special. By taking it upon itself to recreate the perspective of the novel as closely as possible, the film becomes something very claustrophobic. At times, you're invited to see Eva as an unreliable narrator, but if you think one thing near the beginning of the film, you're likely to have changed your mind by the end. In terms of character rather than camera perspective, it's as close to a first-person movie as I've ever seen, and Tilda Swinton is stupefying in that all-important lead role.

When you think about the past, you don't remember it in a nice, orderly flashback fashion. Human memory is more disjointed than that, and so we might see a teenage Kevin in one reminiscence, and a baby Kevin in the next. All of the young actors who play Kevin are terrific, and many people have quite rightly praised Ezra Miller, who plays the teenager. Rock Duer and Jasper Newell play him through toddlerhood and childhood respectively, and they are equally as powerful, without being any kind of obvious play on Damien from The Omen. Instead, he's in a power struggle with his own mother, and the film always leaves the question of nature vs. nurture open to interpretation. Kevin couldn't have been born a sociopath, could he? Or could he?

The other effect of the non-linear narrative is to really ramp up the foreshadowing and foreboding. Knowing everything we know about Kevin at the first point that we see his younger sister, Celia, we're dismayed to see that she's wearing an eyepatch. This is quite early on in the film, and until you find out the cause of that injury, you can't help but speculate. Kevin teases his sister mercilessly, using a vaccuum cleaner at one point. Elsewhere, Kevin takes up archery. My own presumptions and attempts to pre-empt that sub-plot unsettled me deeply, and when the actual cause is revealed, there's no respite from the reveal.

Ramsey's direction isn't beholden to a linear narrative, but it's not just the structure that demands your uneqiuvocal attention. Much has been made of the film's heavy-handed use of the colour red, which links post-Kevin Eva to Lady Macbeth and the earlier scenes to a sense of impending danger and violence, but it is my opinion that the film is far more potent in its action than in its symbolism. The film has more shocks from scene to scene than your average horror film, and if anything, it's a social horror story, playing upon the dynamics of a troubled family relationship, and upon what society's grief inflicts upon Eva.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is a supremely disquieting horror drama that is as completely rooted in reality as a Mike Leigh film. With deference to the source material, it makes more sense to praise aspects of the adaptation, rather than the story and characters that Shriver created. Tilda Swinton gives possibly her best ever performance, and the various Kevins orbit around her, as unpredictable as the shark from Jaws. Lynne Ramsey's film is one of those that won't leave your thoughts for weeks after watching it, and so, even if it's admitting defeat to that obvious pun, I'd anticipate that you will need to talk about it.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is still showing in selected cinemas nationwide. The film will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on February 13th 2012.
If you've seen We Need To Talk About Kevin, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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