Based on the novel by Lionel Shriver, Lynne Ramsay’s third feature film is absolutely mesmerising. Presented to us in fragmented non-linear segments we learn of the story of Eva and her extremely troubled son Kevin. Immediately we learn that something terrible has occurred resulting in Eva being an outcast in the town she lives in and her rundown home being vandalised by being covered in red paint. The ominous mood and build up to what has happened exists right from the beginning and remains throughout, the realisation of what Kevin has done only completely revealed at the end of the film. The non-linear nature of the segments from Eva’s life are cleverly constructed, gradually formulating a bigger picture.
Tilda Swinton plays Eva, a creative free spirit who loves to travel and loves her life in the city. Married to Franklin (John C.Reilly), Eva accidentally gets pregnant but she keeps the baby even though it seems to interfere with her life plans. From the birth of the child we see everything from Eva’s perspective as she struggles to bond with the baby and struggles to get the support she needs from Franklin. Eva is very much an unreliable narrator and that is the truly fascinating aspect of the story. We see as the baby, Kevin, grows up, he becomes extremely difficult and manipulative, successfully driving a wedge between Eva and Franklin. The birth of the couple’s unplanned second child Lucy (Ursula Parker) does nothing to help the situation and seems to exacerbate Kevin’s resentment as Eva clearly adores her daughter in a way that she obviously doesn’t with Kevin. We see Kevin as a teenager (Ezra Miller) and we learn of the atrocity he commits resulting in him being sent to a juvenile prison.
As the film deals with such a large time scale there is a lot to take in and the construction is brilliantly successful, guiding us through the significant events so that we can piece it all together. The ambiguity of the piece is subtle but it is definitely there, as we see everything from Eva’s point of view we never know if Kevin is as he seems or if that is just how Eva sees him and so even when things appear straightforward we are never truly sure how reliable our viewpoint is.
Lynne Ramsay opts for an expressionistic colour design, the use of red strongly prominent throughout the film. The suggestive colour beautifully depicts the on-going horror in her life and the inner turmoil of Eva. As there are mere glimpses at the main atrocity, we barely see anything of what Kevin does as that is not what the film is about, the use of red becomes a powerful signifier and allows us to use our imagination. This is Eva’s viewpoint and the exaggerated red indicates how she sees things, a warning sign that is constantly with her.
The acting is stupendous throughout the entire film. Tilda Swinton is a fascinating leading lady, able to portray extreme vulnerability and resentment towards Kevin but at the same time clearly loving him as she feels she should. Her physicality is used to great effect, her tall willowy frame slightly hunched in order to try and blend in when we see her in the town. Ezra Miller is brilliantly cast as teenage Kevin, his strange and distinctive face adding so much to the character and he clearly relishes playing this kind of character. But the most impressive performances are those of the younger actors who play Kevin, Rock Duer as toddler Kevin and Jasper Newell as the slightly older Kevin, who is incredibly creepy and Omen like. Lynne Ramsay has stated that the casting process that was scheduled for a couple of weeks was increased to six months and the time and effort that has clearly been put into the process really pays off. It is totally believable that all the actors we see are playing the same character at different stages and that is hugely important with a film like this.
As with Ramsay’s earlier work, Morvern Callar (2002), soundtrack is an integral part of the film and We Need To Talk About Kevin has a particularly memorable and subtly terrifying Halloween scene with ‘Everyday’ by Buddy Holly juxtaposed with it, adding to the sense of unease. Everything is carefully considered within the film, from the stark empty house that the family moves into in the suburbs to the t-shirts that Kevin wears as a child and also as a teenager. The attention to detail is sublime and my second viewing of the film was just as enjoyable, if not more so, than the first.
We Need To Talk About Kevin is a dark and harrowing film but the performances are hypnotic and I could be drawn into this world again and again. Ramsay confirms herself as one of the greatest and most interesting directors working today and has made a beautiful and haunting film about a mother’s guilt. It raises interesting questions about the age old debate on nature versus nurture and it is a fascinating character study. This film is gripping from the beginning to the end, even a second time around, and I look forward to many more viewings.
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Writers: Lynne Ramsay and Rory Kinnear
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. Reilly
Runtime: 112 mins
Country: UK and USA