More noise than signal

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

There’s a really quick capsule summary of We Need to Talk About Kevin‘s plot that really underplays everything in it, and also the way that the film’s structured. In the spirit of its aggressive non-linearity, I’d intended to similarly structure this recap. However, it’s been an exhausting week, in an apparently endless series of exhausting weeks, so let’s go with clarity over cleverness.

To Tilda Swinton’s Eva Khatchadourian and John C. Reilly’s Franklin, a child, Damien. Wait, no, Kevin. Kevin appears to learn the joys of gaslighting at an early age, being an insufferable jackass to Eva whenever Franklin’s not around, and sweetness and light when he is. Kevin, played by Ezra Miller once he reaches the “difficult” teenage years, which is a bit of an understatement in this film, shows signs of having something very wrong with him from his youth.

That’s something that Eva continually revisits in the movie’s present, where she finds her situation markedly worse than in the flashbacks. I’m dancing around what might be considered a spoiler here, but it’s a seven year old film at this point, so, well, consider yourself warned. She’s now the town pariah, and also suffering from post-traumatic stress after, final warning, Kevin’s interest in archery graduates into a school mass murder.

Much of the film is a character study in survivor’s guilt, but as much as it’s treating that seriously there’s an element of the unreliable narrator in here. I say this, because Eva’s remembrance of Kevin’s behaviour is much closer to coming out of The Omen than seems entirely reasonable.

Perhaps I’ll open that up to the floor, but in the interest of clearing my opinions out of the way, I like this film a lot. It’s the best performance, I think, I’ve seen Tilda Swinton give, and Ezra Miller’s worryingly convincing as a sociopath. This level of non-linearity often annoys me in film because it’s frequently a transparent distraction from a weak narrative, but it’s really effectively deployed here and makes Swinton’s character all the more sympathetic.

Ramsey’s visuals haven’t exactly been weak in her previous films, but the higher budget of this Hollywood outing allows for a glossiness that wasn’t there before, certainly in the probably embellished memories of happier moments with John C. Reilly, who’s underuse would perhaps be my only issue with the film, but, then, it’s not about his character, so it’s not really. I just always want to see more John C. Reilly. Hollywood, sort it out.

Approved. Do watch.