Lynne Ramsay shot to fame with her last film (back in 2002) Morvern Callar, a gem of a Brit flick which should have made a bigger splash. The Glaswegian director then tried to adapt The Lovely Bones for the big screen but in the end the baton was passed to Peter Jackson and Ramsay picked up We Need To Talk About Kevin.
Clearly a difficult book to adapt Ramsay has made an extraordinary job getting this onto film, but it’s a movie that really demands your attention.
It opens with a long shot of a net curtain blowing in the breeze, while the sounds of crickets play over the top. It’s a moment of distortion where the confusion continues for several minutes. The next moment, a crowd of hundreds is bathing in the blood-coloured flakes and juice of the Spanish tomato festival with Eva, played by Tilda Swinton, gloriously throwing herself into the action. Next, we discover that her house has had blood red paint thrown over it, while the sounds of the festival slowly dissipate. It’s an arresting start, but incredibly infuriating too as it takes time for the jigsaw pieces to fall into place while the timeline flickers back and forth.
But get past the first 20 minutes and the tension and atmosphere will slowly start to simmer to the boil. The crisscrossing timeline soon becomes a tour-de-force with heavy symbolism, red-filled complex shots and editing, while Swinton could not have been better cast for the role. Never a fan of Swinton, I have previously found her cold and at times aloof and have never warmed to her, it seems this role was made for her. And her battle with devil child, Kevin, (the perfectly evil Ezra Miller) illustrates how difficult motherhood has been for her with this Damien-like offspring.
But her husband Franklin (John C Reilly) finds it hard to understand why she finds him such a mean-spirited child. There are few clues to why Eva is such a terrible mother but it is clear that Eva would rather be travelling round the world or living in glamorous surroundings rather than raising a family.
But it appears the Kevin is really a horrible child with a bullying streak who really needs taking down a peg or two. As the film progresses the tension towards the horrific finale grows and grows, answering many questions asked along the way. But not all of them. The audience is left wondering why Eva is so reviled by the public. Her son has committed an awful atrocity, but she’s lost her family too, so why is she being vilified?
Fans of the book will no doubt be disappointed, but thankfully this is a film which will see Ramsay get the plaudits and attention she deserves and Miller and Swinton put in great performances which hold it all together.