“We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a win for fans of the original Lionel Shriver novel of the same name. The film is great, but if you haven’t yet read the book, you might be left a little bit in the dark. Lynne Ramsay, one of four female directors here at the festival, creates a highly stylized universe around the film’s horrific events, which distances the viewer while allowing the true emotional psychosis of her protagonist to fill the screen.
“Kevin” follows Eva (the always-phenomenal Tilda Swinton) in the events leading up to and right after her son Kevin (Ezra Miller) commits a Columbine-style high-school mass murder. The puzzle pieces are laid out all through the movie, allowing you to peer directly into Kevin’s ghastly plans, completely unbeknownst to the other characters. The movie weaves the past and present together in an unsettling way, accentuating the rise and fall of Eva’s emotions.
The film dives right into a first act filled with lots of imagery, style and tone, but not enough coherency. There’s a window, then a tomato fight, then Eva alone in a house, then Eva with her family in a different house. It’s all too easy to get lost in, and it makes the audience work to follow her. Ramsay also uses a lot of red throughout the film, obviously to indicate the upcoming catastrophe. The color finds itself everywhere in the film as things go splat — tomatoes, paint, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches — you name it.
I was drawn away from the deeper emotions in this movie much too often by its endless song cues — specifically, scenes that didn’t add to the narrative except perhaps, “Oh, the main character is still feeling unsettled, but now in a scared way” — and also by the over-the-top acting of the actors portraying Kevin at different ages. They weren’t necessarily bad actors; rather, it seemed to be a stylistic choice to have them play every scene with the same one sinister emotion. There is never a redeeming moment; we cannot side with anyone in this movie. You just want to shake all the characters in the film and tell them to stop it.
Maybe that’s part of the inevitability of the whole thing. Sometimes we know what’s going to happen, and we are powerless to stop it. That’s a bummer.