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'We Need to Talk About Kevin' review - Tilda Swinton tries her hardest to raise a sociopath

I am not a parent, and after seeing We Need to Talk About Kevin, I think I may hold off on the whole children thing for a while. Lynne Ramsey’s new film is simultaneously chilling and thrilling. In the course of two hours, we watch an entire family develop and fall apart due to one child, but the experience is anchored by his mother Eva Khatchadourian, played by the talented Tilda Swinton.

From the very beginning, Ramsey chooses to skip back and forth between the present, where it’s obvious that Eva is now alone and Kevin was involved in something horrible, and the past, where we watch her get pregnant at the big tomato fight that happens in Valencia, Spain each year and begin raising a new family with Franklin, played by John C. Reilly.

In the present, Eva seems hopelessly depressed and people repeatedly harass her while she’s shopping and going about her day, though from her reactions, she seems to hint that she deserves it. Some local kids (or “kids” since we don’t know if they were actually adults) also drench her new, small house in red paint.

In the past, we watch her birth Kevin and from the very moment he comes home, we can see how little the two care for one another. Eva wants the chance to be a mother, but Kevin dislikes her before he even utters his first words. A smart kid, as he grows, Kevin quickly learns how to manipulate his mother, being incredibly nice to his father and saving all of his malcontent for mom. He starts off by refusing to push a ball back to her, but soon he’s refusing to stop wearing diapers and even sprays ink all over a room Eva spent days decorating in rare maps she collected in her youthly travels. As he grows older, Kevin’s actions continue to get worse, but grows quite adept at hiding the truth from his father, sister, and others. Only Eva continually suspects him in every wrong act.

So what do you do when your child appears to simply be a terrible person from the moment he or she is born? As much as Eva hates Kevin, he is also her son and it’s clear that deep down she does love him, or wants to love him, as any parent would. But because he’s so smart about his twisted behavior, is there really much she can do? She could send him to a camp, but he’d be back in a few weeks? Would that really change him? Was it nature that made him this way, or was it somehow Eva and Franklin’s fault?

I am left with many questions after seeing We Need to Talk About Kevin, but it’s ideas continue to keep me thinking days after viewing. Though the movie continually hits on one of the most annoying repeat themes I see in the movies—where one character knows someone is evil but no one else will believe them—the way it switched around through different time periods helped. Tilda Swinton’s performance is also amazing, on the level of an Oscar contender. The amount of pain and frustration she can show with just a glance should make any actor but Meryl Streep a little jealous. Much like her performance in Michael Clayton, she’s almost more interesting than the title character. 

Kevin is undoubtedly one of the best films I’ve seen all year. The film may sound sad and morbid, (after all, who wants to raise a crazy person) but Director Lynne Ramsey is as fascinated with Kevin and Eva as we are and approaches the story, which is based on a novel by Lionel Shriver, with a sense of humor, often mixing disturbing scenes with incredibly catchy old pop hits. If you haven’t seen it yet, the trailer is a great example of Ramsey’s approach.

Lynne Ramsey’s previous films, Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar, were both dark in nature, but it’s clear she has learned a lot in the last decade. We Need To Talk About Kevin is her best film yet and manages to convey its ideas in a more approachable and understandable way. This is a movie that anyone can watch and enjoy, but has a lot going on under the surface. 

Rating:  (Exceptional)

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