FILM REVIEW: We need to talk about Kevin (15)

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From the moment it premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Scottish director Lynne Ramsay’s bravura adaptation of the award-winning novel by Lionel Shriver has been generating awards buzz.

In particular, Tilda Swinton’s fearless and emotionally wrought performance as a tormented matriarch is being tipped for Oscar consideration.

All of the plaudits are well deserved.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is an extraordinary, haunting and poetic vision, documenting the aftermath of a senseless high school massacre from the perspective of the teenage perpetrator’s guilt-stricken mother.

Ramsay has performed miracles adapting the source text, structured as a series of letters from mother to her spouse that brilliantly dissects the relationship between parent and child caught in a violent tug of war between nature and nurture.

On the page, it’s chilling; on the canvas of the big screen, equally so, revealing in the minutiae of the lead character’s shattered life.

We sift, with mounting horror, through the fractured history of Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) and her sociopath son, Kevin (Ezra Miller).

While Eva clashes with the boy, including a confrontation that results in a visit to hospital, Kevin slyly wins the affections of his father Franklin (John C Reilly), thereby driving a wedge between the parents.

The arrival of baby sister Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich) introduces a new target for Kevin’s sick and twisted games, including a shocking episode with the family’s guinea pig and a close call with drain cleaner that Eva is convinced was no accident at all.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is breathtaking.

Swinton is mesmerising, anguish etched across her face as Eva endures abuse in the street from the parents of dead children.

Miller is unnerving, coolly biting his nails and then lining up the gnarled crescents on a table as he confesses that he no longer recalls why he took a bow and arrow to his classmates.

“I used to think I knew... now I’m not so sure,” he laments.

There are brief glimmers of humour amid the devastation such as when two Jehovah’s Witnesses who unwittingly knock at Eva’s door and ask, “Do you know where you’re spending the afterlife?”

“Oh yes, in Hell,” she responds, slamming the door in their faces.

Ramsay withholds the horror of the massacre to the closing frames and delivers a final hammer blow that explains why Eva walks through the film like an empty shell.

We leave the cinema gasping for breath.

By Damon Smith

:: Swearing :: Sex :: Violence :: Rating: 9/10

Released: October 21 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas), 112 mins