We Need to Talk About Kevin. Why? I’d rather just ignore him—and this vile, pretentious movie—completely. With an incomprehensible script and jigsaw-puzzle direction, both by Scottish poseur Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher), and a loopy performance by weirdo Tilda Swinton as the half-mad mother of a serial killer, this is the most unwatchable horror movie masquerading as social comment I have seen this year.
It begins in a laughable parody of Dante’s Inferno with a mob of scantily clad people at a Spanish bacchanal writhing in what looks like strawberry sauce. I guess they symbolize Kevin’s victims—dead bodies rolling in blood after he has shot up his school, leaving them in a vat of red paint. Kevin is a maniac who was born evil. As a baby, he screamed uncontrollably. As a child, he was senselessly drawn to maiming and hurting other children without provocation. Uncommunicative to the point of autism, he mainly just stared maniacally, saying nothing. Composed of brief images, like shards of broken milk bottles, the film takes forever for the pieces to form some kind of picture of what’s going on, and even then, some of the pieces never fit. While Kevin’s father Franklin (John C. Reilly) just shrugs and prays for adolescence, his mother Eva (Ms. Swinton, looking more anemic and androgynous than usual, which is saying a mouthful) is not so pulled together herself. When he refuses to take part in toilet training, she throws her son against the wall and breaks his arm. Then, after Kevin sprays an entire room with graffiti, Mom buys a dozen broken eggs, cooks them up in a bowl and picks at the scattered shells before papering another entire room in road maps. We won’t go into the part where Kevin stuffs his pets down the garbage disposal and flips the switch.
Far from an insightful psychological study, the movie jolts back and forth in 20-year time frames as it follows the shocked expressions of the traumatized mother of a psychopath. Mr. Reilly is nothing more than a domestic cipher as the clueless father. Ms. Swinton acts like she’s auditioning for Medea, but any hint of Greek tragedy is ratcheted up to the duh level by Ezra Miller’s snarling, absurdly precocious and profoundly obnoxious bad-seed portrait of Kevin as a cross between a Stepford baby and Chucky the killer doll. Most of the bloated running time of nearly two hours is used up before we even find out the horrible thing Kevin did at 16 that landed him in prison. Even then, the director refuses to show his murder spree, opting instead for splashing the screen with buckets of corny, symbolic paint the color of cherry tomatoes.
It’s a deliberate example of style over content that leaves you feeling like you’ve been had. Whether it’s about the toxic life of Kevin, whose contempt for everyone and everything around him leads to a homicidal massacre, or about the complicity of a sociopath’s lost, anxiety-riddled mother whose unconditional love played its part in the creation of a monster? She’s more concerned with what the neighbors think. And why all the close-ups of cancer cells? Does it mean that in an age of feminist-distopia Kevin is his mother’s own fatal disease? Does anybody care? We’ve had a lot of films about American school shootings, including Gus Van Sant’s inert and deadly Elephant, Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine and last year’s wrenching, underrated Beautiful Boy with Michael Sheen and Maria Bello. But We Need to Talk About Kevin (wanna bet?) is a morbid, misguided mess with a fractured narrative, guaranteed to drive audiences away in droves.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
Running Time 112 minutes
Written by Lynne Ramsay and Rory Kinnear
Directed by Lynne Ramsay
Starring Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly and Ezra Miller