[We Need to Talk About Kevin opens today in New York and L.A.]
Forget The Great Ectasy of Robert Carmichael (2005)—this year, Lynne Ramsay puts the art-house crowd though a titillating wringer in her contraption-like parental-dread thriller, We Need to Talk About Kevin. Centered upon a diabolical child not unlike the psycho-tots seen in The Omen (1976) and The Good Son (1993), the carefully disjointed narrative sets out to make you experience the visceral horror Rosemary must have felt after she spawned baby Satan and the end-credits rolled on Roman Polanski’s sick-joke masterpiece.
The eponymous offspring, played in most of the film by the heavily made-up Ezra Miller—a kissing cousin to the Twilight’s sickly love object Robert Pattinson—does all kind of wicked things, from breaking crayons in half (in mega close-up) to poking his baby sister’s eye out, only to say she’ll just have to “suck it up”. While goofy dad—in the form of grossly miscast John C. Reilly, doing his Chicago (2002) schtick of standing by his dizzy (ditzy) dame no matter what—remains incredulous throughout, the high-strung mom lives in dutiful terror of her son (not to mention the near-constant intellectual stupor, which prevents her from, um, taping one of the boy’s multiple evil antics and thus ending her ordeal).
The film’s soundscape is a jagged assembly of all manner of quaint mother-son ballads, interspersed with abrasive screeching (razor-blade-on-glass, et al.) and drilling that all but bids to crack your skull. The full-blown sensory attack is Ramsay’s strategy of choice, especially in the prolonged opening section, which (while failing to establish any firm sense of a story being told), pulls you into the whirling swamp of the main character’s paranoia head-first. You haven’t seen this many shots of dripping red goo (be it jam, paint or ketchup) at least since the day Blob oozed into the theater near you
As with any bad art-house riff on a trashy premise, so does We Need to Talk About Kevin arrive fully annotated, carefully guiding the viewer through every nook and cranny of its numbingly simple-minded concept. Since the film’s main atrocity (or is it attraction…?) is committed with bow and arrows, there’s even a surfeit of Robin Hood references sprinkled all over the place (Kevin dons a green Robin-cap with a small feather sticking out). The movie gives you all the thrills of crass superstition, all the while calling attention to itself and to how adroitly it has been put together.
Need I say that the minute the cuddly-if-frightened guinea pig makes its arrival at the doomed household, you know it will be cut to pieces by the resident devil…? In some way, We Need to Talk About Kevin provides Tilda Swinton with ideal material: she can zip through the film like tight knot of pulsating pain, and never once bother with such quaint notions as a reality check. I bet even the bruises the film effects on your brain arrive in pretty wide-screen patterns.
Michał Oleszczyk is a regular contributor to Kino, a Polish film monthly. He runs a film blog and lives in Cracow.