Review: WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN

“It is like a horror parody or something,” I told Film Fix co-host Jeff Marker after watching WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN.

Jeff objected. He really liked the movie, but initially, I was on the fence.

KEVIN offers filmgoers an unusual viewing experience—it is one of the most unique movies released over the last 12 months. And while it is certainly not a horror film, it sure feels like one at times. KEVIN is expertly crafted on every level starting with the visually striking opening sequence, which finds star Tilda Swinton covered in deep red tomato mush. She’s participating in a Spanish tomato festival but the pall hanging over this dreamy sequence sets a foreboding tone.

Red is everywhere in the metaphorical WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. It could be argued that the metaphors are extended too broadly especially with the continuous use of red and blood images. However, if you watch the movie without taking everything literally, you might understand and appreciate it more.

Director and co-writer Lynne Ramsay works from a novel, which I’ve not read, by Lionel Shriver, producing a screenplay delivered exclusively from the perspective of Eva (Tilda Swinton), a mother of two married to Franklin (John C. Reilly). And the screenplay feels very much like a novel that climbs into the head of the central character and gives us a confused even nonsensical internal monologue that runs for the entire film.

The narrative is not linear or chronological really but relays the events leading up to some kind of Columbine-like tragedy using remembrances filtered through Eva’s depressed and damaged present self. We learn very early that something terrible has happened in the small town in which Eva inextricably chooses to live. She is often assaulted on the street by townsfolk and treated poorly at every turn. Her tiny home is vandalized with red paint, and instead of just painting over it, she scrubs it off, rather ineffectively.

Eva’s present dismal life is contrasted by her past persona when she lived with her wealthy husband and raised her children. The flashbacks focus on Eva’s strained relationship with her son Kevin at various points in his life. Eva can’t remember many good times with Kevin and her memories of him, even as a tiny boy, project and hint at the tragedy that is to come. Eva is wrestling with her role in the horrible event later in Kevin’s life, but clearly wants to convince herself that Kevin is some kind of demon seed spawned by the devil himself. This is where the movie feels very much like it is taking a page from movies like THE OMEN or that Macaulay Culkin picture THE GOOD SON. For Eva, it is easier to demonize her son, rather than take on any responsibility herself. And this points up why a movie like KEVIN is nothing like THE OMEN. The viewer is not let off the hook with KEVIN, because the story never devolves into horror camp.

But this is a very scary film none-the-less. Director Ramsay seems intent on scaring parents everywhere, but she also wants this cautionary tale to make us think too. And like last’s year’s marvelous Alexander Payne film THE DESCENDANTS, KEVIN should have a slow burn effect on viewers. Initially, I did not like how KEVIN manipulated me, especially as it personified adult behaviors onto the child Kevin. But as a parent of two youngsters, a boy and a girl, I thought more about KEVIN than almost any other film I saw in 2011. And the more I thought about it, the more I understood what it was all about. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN is an extended metaphor of a film that wants you to take it all in to hopefully address the demons you see in your life. Sometimes those demons are real. Sometimes you have no control over them. But sometimes they are of your own making.

About Jonathan W. Hickman

Jonathan W. Hickman is a filmmaker, writer, and attorney living in metro Atlanta. His first novel, THE TASTER, is available in bookstores and online.