We Need to Talk About Kevin
Dir. Lynne Ramsay
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 112mins
We Need to Talk About Kevin opens with a dizzying overload of sensory envelope pushing. What feels like a solid half an hour of little more than criss-crossing images from the life of Tilda Swinton’s brash Eva Khatchadourian, layered with an intricate and fragmented kaleidoscope sound design that paints a vivid and architectural image of this woman’s life before, during, and after the worst moment of her life. The bold, striking red of a visit to the La Tomatina festival in Valencia oozes into the flashing neon red of a police car’s headlights, which then flows into the imagery of Eva scraping dried red paint from the façade of her rickety house. Screams, chants and cheers merge on the soundtrack alongside Jonny Greenwood’s musical score before twisting into a stunning moment of revelation as Eva stands with her baby in a pram right next to a jackhammer at a construction sight, barely able to drown out the never-ending sound of her wailing child. Swinton’s face binds all these images and ideas together and it’s such a heady, intoxicating swell of emotions and feelings that it’s actually disappointing when Ramsay has to get down to actually telling the story that, ahem, she needs to talk about.
I was having trouble making heads or tails of the second half of this movie when a friend suggested that Swinton’s character is actually just a really unreliable storyteller. Was Kevin really that terrible of a child? Was her husband – John C Reilly as Franklin – really as cowardly and noncommittal as he appears or is it merely a figment of Eva’s unwell mind? Either way, I suspect an audience member’s reaction to the film as a whole will rely heavily on wheather they find these characters at all tolerable. Unfortunately Kevin becomes little more than a sociopathic Jason Voorhees with only one mode and a seemingly never-ceasing desire to inflict pain. Franklin on the other hand seems like such a whitewashed character that it’s almost as if there’s nothing even there for Reilly to perform.
The film’s best moments, outside of that exemplary opening gambit of a collage, are when it navigates the prickly aspects of Eva’s rotating world. The way a co-worker berates her under his breath at a Christmas party when she refuses to dance with him; her fierce determination to be normal as she waves across the street to a neighbour; the itchy skin she experiences when a wheelchair-bound student crosses her path and he proves to be the most sympathetic of all. Swinton is mesmerising to watch and her aghast facial expressions are some of her finest work. We Need to Talk About Kevin really does work best with Kevin is on the outer, a force that encroaches upon the lives of this world, but never really comes to be. It’s like when Hannibal Lector was so maniacally terrifying when seen briefly in Silence of the Lambs, and yet became a carnival freak show when given the increased camera time in Hannibal. Kevin is a forceful, powerful character on paper more than he is in flesh and blood. In flesh and blood he’s annoying and drags the film down no matter his age (played by Jasper Newell at age 8, and Rocky Duer as an infant).
We Need to Talk About Kevin is, like its UK quad posters suggest, some sort of radicalised horror movie. A demon child story in arthouse clothing with a villain as wise-cracking as Freddy Krueger and unrelentingly clunky as Michael Myers with Tilda’s Eva his tortured "final girl". Lynne Ramsay here is always doing interesting things with the medium and that certainly makes for involving filmgoing even when the characters and their actions are frustrating beyond belief. As it plays out in frenetic bursts, I admired its audacity, but just wished that somebody had indeed talked to Kevin rather than merely about him. B-