I asked via Twitter earlier this week which of the new releases I should review for the site. The majority came down to We Need To Talk About Kevin, despite Dylan’s prediction that I would hate it. And he had every right to think that. It’s a slow, 2-hour drama with little-to-no comedy, no real action, a quiet feel and a depressing story. While the opposite has been known to occur, I generally don’t love this brand of film. On the other end of the spectrum, I’m fascinated by the psychology of school killer stories. Ben Foster’s Bang Bang You’re Dead is one of my favorites. (But don’t get me started on Elephant–that’s a piece of uber-pretentious crap.) So I went into this one a bit wary, to say the least.
There’s not really a solid story, per se (and most of us know how I feel about those types of films). But we follow a woman named Eva (Tilda Swinton), who is married to Franklin (John C. Reilly), and has a son named Kevin (Rock Duer/Jasper Newell/Ezra Miller). There’s something mentally wrong with Kevin, and he has a natural loathing for his mother. He says and does things while growing up just to spite her. And all of this builds up to right before he turns 16 where he, for no apparent reason outside the fact he’s crazy, kills a bunch of kids at his high school. But interestingly, the story also focuses on the after effects and how the town treats Eva for raising the boy who killed their kids. And it studies the theme of nature vs. nurture (though definitely taking the side of nature).
If you know me, you know I like horror movies. I’ve seen quite a lot of them, and to be honest, most of them don’t really scare me. I’ve even seen both Salo and A Serbian Film. I’ve seen movies with zombies, vampires, werewolves, mummies, sea monsters, ghosts, poltergeists, demons, killer animals; I’ve seen people get buried alive, drowned, eviscerated, decapitated, skinned, tortured, raped, eaten; and all I could do was just keep putting myself in her shoes and hoping I never, ever end up in that kind of situation with that kind of kid. So believe me when I say… this was one of the most horrific films I’ve seen. Dear God, I would hate to be Eva, trapped living with that child every day of my life knowing that every single second was going to be a living hell and there was nothing I could do about it.
This film had me captivated from start to finish. And for such a quiet little movie, that’s quite an achievement. I think a lot of it had to do with the editing. This is not a linear film. It’s simultaneously in the past and present–and all sorts of places in the past. There are so many things going on and so many things being shown that it keeps you on your toes. I was never quite sure what I was going to see next. And I’m a big fan of non-linear storytelling, so it was a big help. I’ll also say, despite everything, there was still one aspect of the ending that caught me off guard and hit me emotionally. I honestly didn’t expect that to happen (avoiding spoilers), though I’m not sure you were supposed to.
The strongest aspect, of course, is going to be the acting. Everybody is top notch. Even John C. Reilly, who seems to be attempting to get back into more serious fare lately, was really good with his role. And the casting for Kevin at all ages was spot on. The evolution of the the character was fantastic in portrayal and look. I could actually see the younger Kevin growing into that older Kevin. And each age was chilling in its own way. They brought out so much emotion in me (particularly anger). Tilda Swinton was the same. You could go from sympathetic to frustrated with her character. I just wanted to yell at her to try a psychologist or something–for her and the kid! Alas…
If I had any negative, it would be how too on-the-nose the movie was at times. It’s a film that tries to be quiet and subtle, but then blasts you with some images and sounds that are quite the opposite. First there’s the fact that there’s red in every scene of the film. I get it. Symbolism! But did it have to be so in-your-face about it? There’s one scene where there’s a red jacket or blanket or something in the far background. Why not do stuff like that more often instead of hitting us everywhere with RED! Though that didn’t really bother me all that much, to be honest. What got me was the music. At first, I thought it was just an ironic soundtrack. Such lively sounds for such a dark movie. Like a film version of “Pumped Up Kicks” (same subject matter, even!). But I started to notice… the songs were chosen specifically for their lyrics, not because of the mood setting. The lyrics would go with whatever was happening in a scene. For instance, there’s a moment where Eva is searching Kevin’s room, trying to find out his secrets and whatnot. While she’s doing this, The Beach Boys’ “In My Room” is playing, where it’s talking about being “in my room” and looking for “secrets.” And it does that kind of thing almost every other scene with every song chosen. And when you pick up on that, after a while it started giving me the same effect as voice-over narration telling you what was going on as it was happening.
But on the whole, this was a fantastic film. As stated, the performances were outstanding. The way the film was put together was captivating. Just the filmmaking for this one in general was superb. It certainly isn’t an easy movie to sit through due to its subject matter, but if you like psychological stuff, I strongly recommend it. It doesn’t mess with your head, but it makes you try to get into the heads of the characters themselves. And it brings out so many emotions as you watch. Does it leave you with questions? Yeah. There are some things that just didn’t make sense, particularly in the actions (or lack thereof) from Eva. But it’s a strong film, and if you were on the fence about it, I say you check it out.