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Overall Rating

Awesome: 31.58%
Worth A Look42.11%
Average: 5.26%
Pretty Bad: 15.79%
Total Crap: 5.26%

5 reviews, 8 user ratings

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We Need to Talk About Kevin
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by Brett Gallman

"They should have discussed contraceptives instead."
4 stars

Maybe I’ve seen too many horror movies and my mind subconsciously gravitates towards them, but it seems like two of this year’s awards contenders are horror flicks masquerading as dramas. Not that it particularly matters, mind you--squeezing movies into genres is a little overrated and fruitless--but it’s kind of neat to see horror tropes trotted out and funneled through a different sort of gaze. Last week, I said “Martha Marcy May Marlene” was essentially a cult film, and, this week, I’m here to tell you that “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is one of the most terrifying “creepy kid” flicks you’ll ever see.

A mesmerizing journey of sadness and regret, the film finds the titular Kevin’s mother (Tilda Swinton) attempting to pick up the pieces from some tragedy to which we aren’t privy. The film opens with her wallowing through a throng of blood-covered adolescents, a dream from which she wakes only to find that her home and car are apparently covered with blood. As she traverses across town, she’s met with disconcerting glances, and we soon learn that Kevin is in prison, which sets in motion a series of flashbacks to his troubled life, from infancy to his days as a troubled teenager.

Veterans of this type of film (think “The Bad Seed” and “The Omen”) are familiar with this sort of stuff, but rarely has this kind of material been so bone-chilling. Maybe it’s because Kevin is so inexplicably evil and conniving--even as a baby, he mysteriously wails whenever he’s in his mother’s presence, though he somehow stops whenever his father (John C.Reilly) picks him up. As he grows older, he’s realized by a wicked performance by Jasper Newell, who does the vacant-eyed/half-smiling demon spawn thing about as well as any child actor I can remember. The way director Lynne Ramsay coaxes an understated, insidious intent from Newell is incredible; calling infant Kevin a holy terror is wildly inaccurate because he’s completely unholy--and for no good reason.

No demonic cults cursed his mother’s womb, nor is he the adopted antichrist--he’s just, well, a bad seed. Watching it, I couldn’t help but think that this is the movie Rob Zombie should have attempted to make when he remade “Halloween.” Kevin is rather similar to Michael Myers in that his evil is somehow primal--it’s not the product of a broken home or psychological disorder. It’s just purely, simply evil (or eee-vil, as Donald Pleasence would pronounce it), and he’s an eerily mute bastard for most of the time as well.

When Kevin grows up, the film does hit some familiar beats in the form of animal mutilation and some disturbing episodes involving his younger sister. Ezra Miller plays the older version of the character and crafts a sinister, angst-driven teen whose smart, sarcastic mouth is the least disturbing thing about him. This part of the film is one of the more fascinating parts because it’s all eventually funneled into an all too real and resonant tragedy; it’s not that the rest of the film is played light or unrealistically by any means, but the climactic reveal (which is actually in all of the plot synopses, but I’ll spare you out of kindness) is ripped straight from our own tragic modern headlines.

And, though all isn’t revealed until the end, “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is really about coping with these sorts of inexplicable tragedies. He may be the title character, but Kevin is hardly the protagonist--that would be his mother, brought to heartbreaking life by Swinton. She gives a performance that reveals a different type of victim, one who is forced to somehow love (or at least tolerate) a monster. Watching her degenerate from a doting new mother to someone who has resigned herself to her fate is gut-wrenching; when she and Kevin have stand-offs, the tension is palatable, and the quiet resentment of both is unnerving. Usually, these types of films are disturbing enough when the kid is unnaturally hateful; in this case, seeing a mother come to despise her own son is unforgettable.

Perhaps the most incisive part of the film comes when young Kevin (who is remarkably insightful for his age) remarks that sometimes people just learn to put up with things instead of loving them. It’s a cutting, haunting barb directed right at his mother, and it encapsulates the film rather well; in many ways, it’s a film about reliving and reclaiming the past. It’s rather understated, but Swinton’s shame and regret-fuelled memories feel like an attempt to figure out just what went wrong. The title seems to even be a bit ironic, as we discover that there were few attempts to actually talk about Kevin’s disturbing behavior; sometimes, it’s refracted back onto Swinton--maybe she’s subconsciously imagining it all because she’s the one with a few loose screws.

This is a possibility; after all, the film is from her perspective, and Ramsay’s hallucinatory direction betrays the character’s shattered psyche. “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is littered with symbolism and imagery--when we see Swinton scrubbing away the blood off of her home and car, I think it’s all metaphorical, a manifestation of her own guilt and the blood on her hands. So it follows, then, that this entire film may be an attempt to reconstruct an alternate reality where she isn’t at fault; after all, if Kevin emerged from the womb as an incontrovertible hellspawn, is she to blame?

I suspect the film will spark some debate in that regards, but, whether you take it all straight or not, “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is undeniably intense and powerful. Most of all, it’s both genuinely scary and sad, a doubly emotional gut punch that will leave you dazed and despairing. Incredibly acted and captivating until the final frame, it’s an authentic, unique exploration of horror tropes that have been diluted by schlock over the years.

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originally posted: 12/10/11 20:29:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Festival de Cannes For more in the 2011 Festival de Cannes series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2011 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2011 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 47th Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 47th Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Telluride Film Festival For more in the 2011 Telluride Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 34th Starz Denver Film Festival For more in the 34th Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/16/17 Louise (the real one) Intelligently made and faithful to the excellent book. 4 stars
12/31/13 Martin Presents a fair nature/nurture case for us to decide. Involve yourself and it's not 1sided. 4 stars
10/03/12 Langano CANADA 4 stars
6/07/12 Monday Morning P. Sobczynski - we don't want to read your goddamn doctoral thesis. Edit! 1 stars
6/07/12 The Taitor Good acting espeically by Miller but the story felt a bit long and strung out, 2.5 stars 3 stars
2/03/12 Paulo Intererting 3 stars
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  09-Dec-2011 (R)



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