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We Need to Talk About Kevin

Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly in Lynne Ramsay’s disturbing drama We Need to Talk About Kevin. <<© BBC Films>>

Children can be little monsters. But if you give birth to a real monster? We Need to Talk About Kevin is a nightmare about the nature of evil.
    When a pregnancy interrupts Eva Khatchadourian’s (Tilda Swinton: Chronicles of Narnia) exciting life of travel and extravagance, she reluctantly settles down to play the roles of wife and mommy.
    It’s not a believable role for Eva. She doesn’t like Kevin, her son, (Jasper Newell), and he, apparently, hates her. Shrieking constantly as an infant; refusing to interact as a toddler; and needing diapers until he’s eight, seemingly out of spite, Kevin would test the patience of Dr. Spock. For all that, doctors tell Eva that her boy is healthy.
    Proud papa Franklin (John C. Reilly: Cedar Rapids) dismisses Eva’s concerns. But Eva knows something is wrong, especially after she gives birth to and bonds with a baby girl.
    Into his teens, Kevin (now Ezra Miller: Another Happy Day) continues to war with his mother while presenting a happy front to strangers. The war ends when Kevin commits a mass murder, apparently to annoy mother.
    Two years later, Eva is a shell of a person, spending her days as a town pariah and her nights guzzling red wine and white pills. Every week, she visits her son and watches him gloat. It’s her punishment for birthing and rearing a monster.
    The film wants you to question both Eva and Kevin. What made Kevin so hell-bent on destroying his mother? Did Eva’s cold and resentful nature make him so calculating? Or did Eva sense the evil in her son?
    Problem is the film answers its own question by putting you solidly in Eva’s point of view. Director Lynne Ramsay (Morvern Callar) takes the easy way out, making Kevin so blatantly awful that you look for horns in his tousled hair. If Kevin were presented more ambiguously, you might be compelled to question Eva. As it is, Eva is little more than the star of a horror movie.
    It’s a shame that Ramsay lets Eva off the hook so easily, since Swinton is a wonder as the conflicted mother. She’s so uncomfortable with her son she’s practically twitching with rage. You can see the anger in her eyes as she holds the baby, as she tries to get her toddler to talk, as she changes her eight-year-old’s diaper. If we can see that hatred, couldn’t Kevin?
    That’s a question that needs to be answered by a stronger film and possibly a stronger actor than Miller. Though the role doesn’t afford Kevin much sympathy, Miller is so outmatched by Swinton in their scenes that he can do little but sneer.
    We Need to Talk About Kevin doesn’t play well with the concept of ambiguity, which could have made this troubling film one for the ages. Still, Swinton’s bravura performance saves it from falling into camp territory. This is a movie disturbing enough to make you double up on birth control.

Good Drama • R • 112 mins.