Film review: We Need to Talk About Kevin

20 December 2011

Written by: Matthew Smith

With uninspiring films such as In Time, Jack and Jill and the latest instalment of the Twilight series currently taking up our cinema screens, the fact that Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin has failed to find an audience is criminal.

Based on Lionel Shriver’s novel of the same name, this tightly wound thriller offers a disturbing assault on our ideas of the bond that exists between a mother and son, and in the face of such appalling horrors, how far that bond can be stretched.

Tilda Swinton is absolutely mesmerising as Eva, who lives with the impossibly heavy grief and anger in the aftermath of her son having murdered countless classmates in a high school massacre.

Eva is now a social pariah in the community, with people blaming her for her son’s actions. She lives out a tortured existence, and we are told her story in a series of seemingly unconnected and chronologically disordered flashbacks and memories.

As more is revealed to us we find that it is contrasting the life she had before motherhood as a free-spirited traveller, against her responsibilities and reactions to having a child and finally the aftermath of what is perceived to be her failure as a mother.

These flashbacks serve to also tell us the story of Kevin, who from birth seems to have been born with a hatred for his own mother.

All three actors who play Kevin at different times in his life (toddler, child and teenager) are astonishingly creepy, especially the scene in which Eva is trying to coax a young Kevin into playing with a ball. Rock Duer who plays Kevin as a toddler, returns her attempts with a dead-eyed stare that is so maniacal and piercing it gives most Bond villains a run for their money.

The psychological cat-and-mouse relationship between mother and son is essentially a parable for the nature versus nurture argument of what creates evil. Eva is obviously a reluctant parent and resents her family for taking away her freedom, but surely cannot be the sole reason for Kevin’s evil mind.

Frustrating in the best way possible, the film doesn’t answer the question of what societal conditions breed wickedness, or what drives Kevin’s motives. The best explanation Kevin offers to us is that ‘the point is that there is no point’.

Instead we are dragged into the claustrophobic headspace of Eva, and every bit of anger and frustration is passed on to the viewer. Eva tries to understand why there is no love where there should be, despite the assurance of her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) that there is nothing wrong with their son.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is a truly scary horror film. It stays with you for some time after the credits have rolled and the cinema lights have come on to let you escape the darkness of Eva’s world.

Tyrell Mills is a Bachelor of Media Studies student at La Trobe University. This is his first piece for upstart. You can follow him on Twitter: @tyrellmmm.