We Need to Talk About Kevin
Horrific Family Drama

A hit on the festival circuit last year, We Need to Talk About Kevin is finally getting a wide release.  It’s general knowledge that the movie revolves around a Columbine-like act of violence at a high school and the relationship between the perpetrator and his mother, but it comes as something of a surprise that the movie turns out to be more of a horror movie than just a family drama.

After a dreamlike opening, We Need to Talk About Kevin splits into two timelines.  The first shows us how a mother named Eva Khatchadourian copes after her teenage son perpetrates a massacre at his high school.  With her son away in prison, Eva is the only one left on whom the community can focus their rage for the boy’s violent actions.  She becomes the victim of dirty looks, sudden slaps to the face, graffiti, and even people looking to take advantage of her sudden vulnerability.  Although she would prefer to remain hidden, the need for work—all her money was spent on legal fees and wrongful death settlements—means she must continue to be a part of society.

The second timeline begins at her son Kevin’s conception and follows his childhood all the way up to the point of the massacre.  Eva and Kevin have been at odds ever since he was a baby.  Eva feels that her surprise pregnancy has left her unable to live the life of travel she has always planned on and Kevin picks up her frustrations immediately.  As he grows up, he quickly becomes a very vindictive boy who finds pleasure in tormenting his mother at every turn.  Leaving her to face the consequences of his brutality is what he sees as her ultimate punishment.

Tilda Swinton as Eva in We Need to Talk About KevinGoing in, I expected We Need to Talk About Kevin to be more of a family drama, showing how the environment that a child grows up in can impact his behavior.  What I got, surprisingly, was something closer to a horror movie.  In fact, the story actually has a lot in common with The Omen, minus the religious content and blatant references to the boy being the actual antichrist.  In fact, there is not much religion to be found anywhere in We Need to Talk About Kevin.  Keeping the supernatural and religious elements out of the movie keeps the movie from becoming too fantastical, thus allowing its horrifying plotline to be more recognizable to audience members.  That’s likely also why director Lynn Ramsay does not reveal where this movie takes place.  It’s Anytown, USA; for all we know in the audience, it could be happening in our own neighborhood.

Like the evil boy Damien in the 1976 horror classic, Kevin has a devilish look to him, even as an infant.  Sitting across the floor from his mother, baby Kevin glares cruelly at Eva who is trying desperately to get her son to play ball with her. As he grows older, he begins playing cruel mind games on his mother.  There is never really doubt in the audience’s mind that Kevin could have talked earlier if he wanted to, or been potty-trained earlier if he had wanted to, but delaying these normal human functions is his early way of tormenting his mother.  Later, he focuses some of his torment towards his baby sister, whom he instantly sees—whether accurate or not—as the one his mother prefers.  His cruel mind games grow so constant and predictable that, when his sister is given a hamster for Christmas, the audience knows immediately what will happen next.

That fact that Kevin is such a cruel, vindictive person from the very start lessened this movie for me.  Instead of an exploration into the mind of a killer, the movie turns out to be something closer to your average horror movie.  What separates it from those a little bit is the performance of Tilda Swinton as Eva.  Swinton has always had a cold look to her and in turn many of the characters she has played have been cold and detached.  This works well in the pre-tragedy timeline as it helps drive home the point that she wasn’t quite ready for Kevin to arrive in her life.  But in the second timeline, she breaks apart that cold demeanor a bit and we see the vulnerability of a person who feels partly responsible and is forced into taking the blame for the acts of someone else.

In the end, however, We Need to Talk About Kevin seems to work better as a horror movie than it does a character study.  An ambitious horror movie I grant you, but far short of mesmerizing.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is rated R for “disturbing violence and behavior, some sexuality and language.”  The R rating would be appropriate based on the plot alone, and the content certainly feeds off that.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff screened a promotional copy of We Need to Talk About Kevin.