Evil children are a common occurrence throughout film. From The Omen’s Damien Thorn to The Exorcist’s Regan, creepy devil spawn have been scaring the living daylights (or not) out of audiences for decades. While they are a common occurrence in films, for the most part they all have some sort of supernatural connotation attached to them. Enter Kevin Khatchadourian, the titular character of We Need To Talk About Kevin. Unlike Damien Thorn and others before him, Kevin is as real a devil child as you’ll ever see. Perhaps that’s what makes him, and thus the film so goddamn terrifying, and what makes this film work so well. Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin is one of the most chilling and terrifying films that you’ll ever see, mostly because it is (sadly) so true and relevant to today’s society, which is why you need to see it, especially if you are a parent, or even a teenager. This is a film that will cause significant discussion within audiences, and so it should. It’s subject matter is something that is often overlooked or not given a full perspective (see Gus van Sant’s Elephant to see what I mean), but thankfully, Ramsay gives a whole new perspective of this subject, allowing us to see the full impact.
Despite the title, the film is actually focused around Eva (Tilda Swinton), a mother who, ever since the birth of Kevin (Jasper Newell as young Kevin and Ezra Miller as teenage Kevin), has had a poor relationship with him, with him to her being the devil on Earth. Unfortunately for Eva, she is the only one who can see the evil side of Kevin, with his father Franklin (John C. Reilly) having a solid relationship with him. We are shown through a series of flashbacks the events that lead up to the climax of Kevin’s evil nature, his massacre of high school students, allowing us to also see the relationship between Eva and Kevin.
The film is actually based on Lionel Shriver’s novel, which sees Eva recounting the events through letters, thus making a film adaptation extremely hard. Thankfully, Ramsay structures it in a complex yet effective and rewarding way, positioning the present at the point after Kevin’s massacre, making us go back in flashbacks to develop the plot and the characters. This structure is impressively executed, as it positions the audience to view Eva as the same person with two different sides. In the flashbacks, we see Eva as a bad mother and a heartless bitch, but cutting to the present, we see Eva as a victim, sympathizing with her for being treated so harshly by other people. The fact that we don’t fully know the events of the massacre until the very end creates so much palpable and dramatic tension, and this is where the film excels. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film with this much tension, and the tension in here is so tight you could cut it with a Stanley knife. From the opening scene (and I’m talking the opening titles), the film locks you in its constricting grip and doesn’t let go until well after you’ve left the cinema. In fact, there weren’t individual scenes that were tense or hard to watch. The whole film is like that, and while that might sound off putting for some, it actually creates a more rewarding experience.
What drives WNTTAK, is the performances. While John C. Reilly is solid support and continues to prove himself as a serious actor as well as being a comedic actor, the real outstanding performances come from the two leads. Ezra Miller is a revelation as the monstrous Kevin. He perfectly portrays Kevin as a monster, never overplaying him as for him to delve into self-parody. While he does the evil thing fantastically, particularly through using his hypnotic eyes, he ensures that Kevin is as real a character as everyone else. The same can be said of Tilda Swinton, who might have hit her finest hour here. Through an effectively subtle performance, she helps us to view the two sides of Eva yet still allows us to view her as the same person. She paints a character who is real by never going over the top. No matter what side of her we see, she still remains human.
Technically, the film is brilliantly realised. Throughout the film, Ramsay has splashes of red, adding to the tension present throughout. It shows that the simplest things such as the colour of a tomato soup can be so effective and impactful. Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, who’s done excellent scores in the past for films like There Will Be Blood, again creates an atmospheric skin-crawling score, and certain music cues really get under the skin. Ramsay’s direction remains visceral throughout while not distracting from the rest of the film, something that is a large problem today in film. She also makes effective use of juxtaposition throughout to add to the tension.
Put simply, We Need To Talk About Kevin is a film that everyone should see. I can in no way, shape or form say that I enjoyed the film, as it is a very hard film to watch, and that’s saying something coming from me, as it takes a lot for a film to put me on edge. But it’s an undoubtedly rewarding and powerful experience that will stick with you for days. It will cause discussion, and may even offer you another perspective on parenting. It’s something that will be seared into my mind, and I’m years away from becoming a parent. If you only see one film this year that is not The Tree of Life, then make it We Need To Talk About Kevin. You will definitely be talking about him.
5 out of 5