WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN: The Academy needs to talk about Tilda

Directed by Lynne Ramsay. Starring Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C.Reilly. 112 mins.
Rating: Four/Five
In cinemas October 21

Is it always wrong for a parent to hate their child? What if the child is evil? Can children be evil? And if they are, is it their parents fault?
A terrifying interpretation of the nature vs. nurture debate based on Lionel Shriver’s bestselling novel, Lynne Ramsay’s difficult and visceral drama We Need to Talk About Kevin is an uncomfortable exploration of maternal ambivalence, character development and guilt. The magnificent Tilda Swinton plays Eva, who soon discovers that children aren’t always little bundles of joy. Kevin (the brilliant Ezra Miller) seems sociopathic from birth – emotionally abusive, violent and deliberately regressive; though he saves these cruelties for Eva, acting like the perfect son around his clueless father Franklin (John C. Reilly.)

Echoing the tone and themes of horrors such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen, Ramsey’s dark drama maintains a nightmarish quality throughout. Visually jarring, the harsh lighting, flashbacks and overlapping vignettes create a discomforting opening act, while the discomforting Aronofsky-like sound design and angry colour palette act as a constant sensory assault, allowing the audience to empathize with Eva’s inability to let her guard down, even for a moment.

Not that Eva is ever fully sympathetic. As often incoherent flashbacks brilliantly evoke the unreliable narrator device of the book, it soon becomes clear that Eva may have played a bigger part in Kevin’s development than she’s comfortable admitting. And as Eva’s hatred of Kevin grows, his cruelty almost takes on a terrifying integrity. Unlike her, he doesn’t attempt to hide his feelings behind the façade of Happy Families. But while Eva’s lack of connection to her son has tragic consequences on her family, it is Kevin’s lack of connection to humanity that will result in true devastation.

While some of the visual metaphors are overwrought, and the idea of mental illness or therapy remains puzzlingly unexplored, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a superbly acted and deeply unsettling film that may well act as the ultimate form of birth control.

See the trailer here.