When Eva (Tilda Swinton) fails to bond with her firstborn child Kevin (Ezra Miller), the relationship between the two becomes more and more volatile over time. As Kevin grows up he learns how to push Eva’s buttons and she has a hard time dealing with his cold demeanor and vicious actions. However, when Kevin does something beyond anyone’s worst nightmares, it brings Eva’s life crashing down around her.
I’m going to start this review my spoiling It’s a Wonderful Life. You know at the end when the whole town give George money and bail him out and everyone’s super happy because they all pull together and you get type 2 diabetes because it’s so sweet? Yeah, well We Need to Talk About Kevin is the polar opposite of that. There are no smiles here, no jokes; it’s a film with a bleak outlook that asks some difficult questions of its audience and refuses to let but the smallest glimmer of light escape from its dark and twisted core. But it’s brilliant.
We see Eva in the present day, alone, with the entire town gunning for her because of some monstrous event that’s occurred. We’re then shown, through a series of flashbacks, what it is that has cause such a reaction amongst everyone, and it’s in these flashbacks that we get the real meat of the story. It invokes myriad reactions and emotions and throws up endless questions with no easy answers. Kevin is clearly a troubled individual, but why is he like that? Was he born evil? Did Eva not show him enough affection? Should some people never have children? Can a mother always forgive her child? These are just some of the things you’ll find yourself conflicted about during the film and likely for a long while afterwards.
What really makes the film, however, is the central performances. Tilda Swinton is totally believable as a mother who wants to love her child but finds it immensely difficult and then struggles with everyday life following her son’s atrocity. It’s a performance filled with heartbreak, frustration and inner turmoil and is matched only by that of Ezra Miller opposite her. It’s slightly disturbing how convincing Miller is as Kevin, his cold, piercing stare as unsettling as anything you’ll see in any horror film. Despite that, it’s absolute joy to watch a young actor take on a role like this and deliver it with such aplomb.
The film is adapted from Lionel Shriver’s novel of the same name, and it’s clear there are certain elements that would work much better on the page. This is a story that requires as much depth as possible to the relationships within the family to try and discover why Kevin is the way he is. The film does a decent job of examining these issues but it never feels quite as thorough as it needs to be or, although whether it’s even possible for the film to be that thorough is debatable.
We Need to Talk About Kevin isn’t an easy watch and some may find it a little too dark. However, it is stunningly shot, features an excellent score from Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood and revolves around a fascinating nature vs nurture argument. There’s a real intrigue to the story, and whilst you may be shocked at what happens, why it happens is the most fascinating part.