WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
Strong: Tilda Swinton gives a powerful performance as mother Eva in the film We Need To Talk About Kevin
We Need To Talk About Kevin is an ultra-solemn attempt to graft the style of an expressionist art-house film on to the sensational content of a horror movie.
As readers of Lionel Shriver’s best-seller will know, it’s the story of former travel writer Eva (Tilda Swinton) living alone in a small-town U.S. community that’s made her a pariah. Once, she was married to a pleasant and prosperous husband (John C. Reilly) and gave birth to two children.
From the outset, Kevin — the elder of the two — is the baby from hell who won’t stop screaming. At eight years old (and played by Jasper Newell), he can’t be potty-trained, won’t play and regards Eva with resentment — which leads her to harm him physically.
In his teens, Kevin (now played by a better young actor, Ezra Miller) commits a series of vicious acts, culminating in one so heinous that, right from the start of the movie, we see other people regard his mother with unconcealed hatred.
The best thing about the film is Tilda Swinton, who gives a cleverly nuanced performance that reveals the vulnerability behind Eva’s cold, gaunt exterior. It would be no surprise if she were nominated for an Academy Award.
Scottish director Lynne Ramsay brings the same leisurely pace, remorseless intensity and obsession with colour that marked her first two films, Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar.
But in ditching the novel’s structure — which took the form of Eva’s letters to her absent husband after the climactic event — Ramsay sacrifices the shock value of the twist at the end of the book.
Most fatally for the film’s chances of attracting an audience, the cinema exposes faults in the original novel that a reader could easily overlook.
There is a huge element of unbelievability to Kevin’s character and development.
Trouble ahead: Eva has her work cut out bringing up wild child Kevin
His father and mother don’t need to talk about this blatant sociopath; they need to get him professional help — yet that idea never occurs to them.
Though Eva does make an initial inquiry about possible autism, it is incredible that his behavioural problems don’t involve him seeing at least one child psychiatrist.
It’s amazing, too, his teachers don’t view him with concern. And his climactic act makes little sense without some record of violence or bullying by his peers.
Nor is there the slightest explanation for Kevin’s evil personality. He is easily the most fascinating presence in the movie, but the film-makers are interested in him only insofar as he affects his mother.
Rocky path: Eva was married and had a calm life - but that all changes
This turns it into a hard-line feminist parable. Ms Shriver poses the question: what are successful career-women to do when they give birth to the kind of insensitive, aggressive male they have loathed since their own childhood?
It is a query that will strike most people — mothers of boys especially — as more than faintly ridiculous.
Kevin is a fantastical creation who bears little or no relation to the vast majority of real boys. It is no surprise to learn Ms Shriver is childless.
You have only to compare this with other ‘bad seed’ films, such as The Omen and Orphan, to appreciate the movie’s shortcomings as regards pace, storytelling and ability to suspend the audience’s disbelief.
This is cheap grand guignol posing as a valuable insight into the male psyche.
Tilda Swinton’s performance is towering, but the story around her doesn’t convince.