It has been nine years since Morvern Callar, the second feature from photographer-turned-filmmaker Lynne Ramsay who, despite the short career, is considered one of Britain’s most visionary directors. Following her failed attempt at adapting The Lovely Bones (which was then made in sugarcoated fashion by Peter Jackson), we finally see Ramsay’s long-awaited third feature. Based on Lionel Shriver’s bestselling novel, Tilda Swinton plays Eva who struggles on continuing her life after the high school massacre by her son Kevin (Ezra Miller) at the age of fifteen.
For those who are familiar with Ramsay’s CV or have read the source material of which this film is based upon, will know that this will not be an easy ride. What we see in We Need to Talk About Kevin is a bleak exploration of a mother trying to bond with her son as perfectly established in the early moments in which Eva is trying to love her newborn son who is constantly screaming. Her challenge as a parent is comparable to what Lee Remick faced in The Omen without the supernatural element, of course. Throughout its fractured narrative, the film also cuts to the aftermath of the crime, in which Eva is looked upon by eyes of hatred who see her as the monster’s mother.
As with Morvern Callar, Ramsay isn’t interested in big emotions or even strong violence, which you would expect in a story like this. The composition of most sequences have a very subtle tone as the visuals is sort of telling the story, particularly the colour red that just dominates the screen. With a story that goes back and forth into different time frames, the transitions from past to present have a beautiful but haunting quality with the use of glittering lights and unfocused lenses. However, it’s not just visuals, but audio too as there are a number of upbeat songs to complement the terrifying images, such as one creepy trick-or-treat sequence with Buddy Holly’s Everyday being played in the background.
Whether a film is good or bad, if it stars Tilda Swinton, it will be worth watching because there’s no such thing as a bad Tilda Swinton performance, and this is no exception. In the role of Eva, Swinton presents herself as a character who is both sympathetic and unsympathetic, in as much as she can be seen as a tragic figure during the aftermath but in the past, her actions of a mother are very negative. Although this is by no means a horror, there is something really scary about Kevin, no matter what age he’s in, particularly Ezra Miller who is seen as an unknown evil who sees himself as “the context”.
Certainly not an easy watch and definitely not one to screen at a parent-child screening, but We Need to Talk About Kevin is a must-see drama about dysfunctional parenthood and a reminder why Lynne Ramsay is one of our great artists in cinema today.
DIRECTOR: LYNNE RAMSAY
SCREENWRITERS: LYNNE RAMSAY, RORY STEWART KINNEAR
STARRING: TILDA SWINTON, JOHN C. REILLY, EZRA MILLER
RUNTIME: 112 MINS
COUNTRY: USA, UK