Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s best-selling 2003 book We Need To Talk About Kevin is one of the 2010’s finest, a chilling and complex portrayal of family life and the nature/nuture debate, anchored by powerhouse performances from both Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller.
Tilda Swinton plays Eva, a woman trying to come to terms with a terrible crime that her 15-year old son Kevin (Ezra Miller) has committed as she visits him in prison. Through the use of flashbacks, we come to understand more about Eva’s marriage and family life as she agonises over her role in his upbringing – is she somehow to blame because she failed to nurture him as a child?
As we look back at Kevin’s childhood, we see even from the outset Kevin was a wilful child who takes every opportunity to victimise his mother (refusing to potty train properly, defacing her property and wilfully disobeying her in ways she can’t complain about without looking crazy).
It’s a dark side that only she can see – Kevin embarks on a personal mission of sadistic psychological torture that he hides from his father (John C Reilly) who’s convinced that Eva is imagining her son’s persecution.
Tilda Switon is absolutely hypnotic – she looks like she hasn’t slept in eight years – it’s a wholly convincing transformative performance which will surely be recognised come award season (the only rival this year being Olivia Colman for her heartbreaking performance in Tyrannosaur). Her performance is particularly outstanding because there’s comparatively little dialogue, Ramsey instead opting to focus on Swinton’s extremely expressive face and body language – a shattered husk of a woman that had all the joy sapped out her long ago.
Ezra Miller is equally good as Kevin. He’s eerily creepy, like an evil lizard; a patient reptilian menace waiting on his rock unblinking; his calm detachment adding an almost Hannibal Lecterian feel to every scene. In fact, once it’s established that Kevin isn’t above doing things simply to unnerve his mother, everything he does takes on a chilling significance – a scene involving a lychee is one of the most unnerving moments in cinema this year. It helps that Ezra Miller is extremely good looking – a disarming façade under which lurks a monster.
Ramsay uses the fractured narrative to great effect, creating a puzzle that you become desperate to unravel but is also simultaneously incredibly disorientating. There’s also a choking claustrophobic feel to the narrative in which benign objects and sequences take on macabre significance – Eva’s cruise through her neighbourhood during Halloween takes on all the dread of a horror movie.
Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography is equally impressive. The colour red is used extensively in the flashback sequences, indelibly staining Eva’s life. This is epitomised by the film’s opening – Eva’s freedom and joy at being held aloft at the Spanish tomato festival dissolves into the red paint splashed over her front door and car, both ominously foreshadowing blood.
We Need To Talk About Kevin is a stunningly crafted and shatteringly effective film, a tense psychological thriller which will not only scoop deserved accolades come award season but which will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.