Adapted from a novel by the same name, Lynne Ramsay’s new film, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a chilling portrayal of a mother who is forced to ask herself the question no parent should ever have to: is my child a psychopath? The concept of breeding evil children is certainly not new to film and has been explored in The Omen, Children of the Corn and more recently, The Good Son. However, We Need to Talk About Kevin takes a fresh approach to the formula and not only focuses on Kevin’s (Ezra Miller) disturbing personality but also on the trauma a parent is forced to endure because of their offspring. One of the most disturbing ideas the film explores is the possibility of someone being born with an inherently evil personality rather than being shaped by external factors such as their upbringing and environment.
The film follows a dysfunctional family, Eva (Tilda Swinton), her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), their son Kevin and young daughter Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich). The story is mainly conveyed through Eva’s flashbacks and early scenes of her arriving at a crime scene foreshadow the events that eventually lead to tragedy. The tension between Eva and Franklin is exemplified early on, as she reluctantly agrees to put her career as a travel writer on hold and move to suburbia in order to start a family. Unfortunately, it quickly becomes clear to Eva that something is very wrong with Kevin and their relationship get substantially worse as the boy grows older. While Kevin displays intense hatred towards Eva and maliciously taunts her at every opportunity, he appears quite fond of his father. Kevin’s Jekyl/Hyde personality makes it ever more difficult for Eva to convince Franklin of their son’s psychotic tendencies. As the tension between Eva and Franklyn builds, Kevin’s frightening behaviour begins to spiral out of control.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is anchored around the magnificent performances of the delightfully strange Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller, who effectively embodies the cold-blooded and evil nature of Kevin. The film features some wonderful cinematography and an interesting art-house script, but mainly succeeds on the strength of the two aforementioned performances. Swinton masterfully channels Eva’s burden, anger, fear and sadness while Miller’s portrayal of Kevin is quite frightening. As strong as these performances are, the immensely talented John C. Reilly seems miscast as the naive husband, Franklin; I was never fully convinced of him and Swinton as a believable couple. Both Franklin and Kevin’s younger sister, Celia seemed like one-dimensional characters that were provided with very little screen time. However, the story is really about the relationship between Eva and Kevin; in this respect the film works extremely well. We Need to Talk About Kevin asks some very difficult questions and may strike fear into the heart of anyone considering becoming a parent, but the film is nevertheless worth seeing for Swinton and Miller’s exceptional performances as well as Ramsay’s unconventional method of storytelling.