|Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Monday, 17 October 2011 09:50|
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Whenever anyone talks about Kevin, people immediately think of Home Alone. But that’s about to change as Lynne Ramsay’s take on Lionel Schriver’s novel arrives. By the end of the film, you won’t be thinking of any other Kevin. Because this Kevin (Miller) is so evil, he makes Damien look like Macauley Culkin in a bobble hat. No wonder we need to talk about him.
Doing away with Schriver’s letter-based structure, Ramsay turns the book into a visual tale that borders on art installation. We see Eva (Swinton) crowd surfing in Spain in a frenzy of exploding tomatoes, before waking up in a deserted house as neighbours chuck red paint on her windows. Wandering about in a drug-addled daze, Eva eventually finds a menial job to get out of the house, only to be ritually bullied by all those she meets.
The reason for this communal hatred is slowly revealed as Ramsay cuts back and forth to Eva’s troubled parenthood. We meet young Kevin (Jasper Newell), a boy as hostile as his teenage self, who refuses to use a toilet or eat his food. Victimising his mum whenever dad (Reilly) is absent, Miller and Newell are superb ciphers putting in provocative performances. Was Kevin born that way? Did Eva neglect him to focus on her career? Was it a bad idea to read Robin Hood before bed?
Ramsay throws up a lot of questions as her camera drifts through a thick sea of overdone motifs. Red tomatoes turn into red paint turn into red lights turn into red sirens turn into red blood. At one point, Eva hides in a supermarket by some cans of red tomato soup, and you worry it’ll start all over again. It’s an arresting style, though, despite the heavy visual symbols, and the blurry flashbacks contrast nicely with the pinpoint sharp images of the present. The soundtrack is superb too (presumably they used red microphones), blending ambient noises and jarring screams to unsettling effect.
But while Swinton’s intense performance is breathtaking and Miller’s presence haunting, We Need to Talk About Kevin doesn’t quite connect come its climax. The dark, ominous mood of the first half verges on psychological horror, but for all its expert storytelling, you can’t help but wonder why Schriver’s story is being told in the first place. Is there a reason other than to shock or surprise? Is it a comment on society, parenting or child violence? The conclusion could be far more effective (and relevant to its parenting themes) if kept to a domestic scale. Ramsay’s adaptation is a flawless showcase of unreliable narration, but there doesn’t seem to be more on offer than that.
A harrowing story, superbly told, but somewhat lacking in purpose. Do we really need to talk about Kevin?