Tuesday, July 11, 2017

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Director Lynne Ramsay touched on parent-child relationships in Ratcatcher and a number of her shorts, but while the adults and children had their foibles and flaws, you can't say any were all good or all bad. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) gives us a character without redeeming qualities. He is pure evil, and he happens to be our main character's son, Kevin.

Going into We Need to Talk About Kevin, I expected something more slickly commercial and straightforward from Ramsay, better known for her gritty style. She's working with established stars in Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly and a higher budget, and I expected something along the lines of The Good Son or The Bad Seed.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is more polished from a technical standpoint, but it is not commercial or straightforward. The conventional narrative would have been to gradually build toward whatever evil plan Kevin (Ezra Miller as a teenager, a couple of child actors when he's younger) attempts and his mother Eva (Swinton) gradually realizing her son's true nature and trying to stop him.

That's not what we get. The film jumps around its timeline, beginning after Kevin has already done that bad thing (which I won't spoil but it resonates in modern America) with Eva, a pariah in the community for having birthed this monster, trying to rebuild her life. The film flashes back to the boy's birth and other incidents that illustrate how weird and malicious he is while Eva's husband (Reilly) refuses to see the truth about their son.

Ramsay's style is abstract, distorted, and surreal. Events from the past and present overlap, memories intertwine with present actions, and the effect is jarring, almost like we're looking at the pieces of an emotional and mental that come together perfectly as the movie progresses. It's never confusing and I was never lost; as the movie unfolds and we sift through everything, what happens becomes evident.

Evil might be too simplistic of a description for Kevin, although his actions certainly qualify. Cold, emotionless, and with nothing but contempt for his mother might be the better characteristics. The movie offers no explanation for why he's this way.

Seemingly from birth, he acts only to make her miserable by emotionally manipulating her and psychologically blackmailing her. While he commits a number of violent and depraved actions, that material occurs mostly off-screen or is suggested, which is somehow more effective than if we had seen them.

Make no mistake: We Need to Talk About Kevin is creepy and disturbing, but it's fascinating to watch unfold. It's not a traditional thriller that builds to a plot resolution. It pulls the viewer into a disturbing web and creates something unsettling.

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