Monday, November 19, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Directed by Lynne Ramsay.
2011. Rated R, 112 minutes.
Ezra Miller
Jasper Newell
Ashley Gerasimovich
Siobhan Fallon
Alex Manette
James Chen

The last sixteen years have been a living hell for Eva (Swinton). Things don’t appear to be getting better. She spends most of her days agonizing over what has happened during that time which culminates with her teenage son Kevin (Miller) in jail. She lives alone in a shabby little house that’s a wreck, both inside and out and goes to visit her boy quite often. The two mostly sit across a table and stare at each other. They don’t seem to be mother and son so much as they do a pair of adversaries inextricably stuck with one another and forced to behave. Through flashbacks we see pretty much Kevin’s entire life. It does indeed seem as if he’s hated her literally from day one of his existence. Soon, the feeling becomes mutual. However, realizing that a mom shouldn’t feel that way about her boy she continues to give her relationship with him the old college try. Unfortunately, the boy just seems evil.

It’s clear right from the beginning that Kevin has not just committed a crime, but done something especially heinous. It’s so bad that Eva is shunned by everyone in town. One lady even has enough gumption to punch her in the face and call her names as they pass each other on the street. For what it’s worth, Kevin doesn’t seem the least remorseful about anything. Didn’t I say he’s evil.

When I say evil, I don’t mean it in the way we normally think of when talking about horror flicks. Kevin isn’t possessed by some revenge-seeking demon or a host for the devil. He just seems to be a bad kid from the start. This dredges up the old nature vs. nurture argument. Was he born rotten or did life spoil him?

Truth told, We Need to Talk About Kevin isn’t actually categorized under horror. I’ve seen it called a psychological thriller, a drama and/or a suspense. Though it has elements of all of those, I wouldn’t say any of those descriptions is truly fitting. I would say it has as much, if not more, in common with fright flicks as anything else. It’s a horror made all the more unsettling because we’re too familiar with both the familial situation and the situation Kevin creates. It could be happening next door. The potential for this story to spring to life right before us, as it too often has, is far scarier than the prospects of some boogeyman in a dingy, tattered get-up disemboweling all of our friends while cracking witty one-liners. The terror comes from the context. That said, it’s not a movie you’d be pressed to watch alone in the dark. The sinking feeling it gives us has nothing to do with what might be lurking about just beyond our field of vision. It comes more from what we can plainly see but may not be willing to believe.

No matter which box we try to put it in, WNtTAK is unconventional. It, along with Eva seems to exist in a near constant dream like state like they’re both incredulous as to how things have turned out. There really is no plot, just the endless pain of her existence as flashbacks and current events alternate screen time. The other is never far from thought.

While the thematic occurrences are intriguing, they would be a hard sell if not for the amazing work turned in by Tilda Swinton. She’s perfectly perplexed at the mess her life has become. Not to be outdone are the three gentlemen handling the role of Kevin. While Miller handles the role in its final incarnation amazingly, he receives a great setup from the tykes who handle the younger versions. In particular, Jasper Newell, who plays Kevin between ages six and eight is remarkable. The two boys complement each other extremely well making for a seamless combined portrayal.

The pacing is a bit slow and the score, while moody, isn’t terribly exciting. This makes it a difficult watch for some. Regardless of which genre you think this belongs, you’re in the wrong place if you’re looking for a mile-a-minute popcorn flick. There is nothing wrong with those kinds of movies, I love plenty of them. However, they’re fleeting and light snacks. We Need to Talk About Kevin is heavy, stick to your ribs food.

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