Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin

Sometimes, the best career move is to do nothing. It is 10 years since Lynne Ramsay made the mesmerising Morvern Callar and, in that time, she has grown into something of a cinematic giant – mainly because she didn't get to make the film version of The Lovely Bones.

Instead of getting to adapt the famous book about a teenager who had something dreadful happen to her, she gets to make the film of the famous book about a teenager who does something dreadful.

Her approach to book adaptation is the opposite of Peter Jackson's film-what-you-read literalism. We Need To Talk About Kevin is more a companion piece than adaptation – taking the key elements and spinning them into a bleak reverie spun around a streamlined selection of characters and situations from it.

The book is taken as read, its story not so much told as obliquely referenced. The fragmented, associative narrative edges towards its central horror from two directions.

We see Eva (Tilda Swinton) after the event where she is blamed by the community and before as she tries to raise her demon child Kevin.

Eva is a career woman, a travel writer, who suffers a terrible fate – she gives birth to a natural born teenager. Even as a toddler, Kevin is confrontational, contrary and evil. Casually manipulative, he is able to twist his father (John C. Reilly) around his little finger.

The film exerts a strange wrenching grip. Ramsay's skill and method is an accumulation of the telling, little details which make it seem real and lived in. A fraught drive through a neighbourhood at Halloween is beautifully done.

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But, in focusing so tightly on Eva, the film feels a little sealed up. We only get her view of Kevin, which is that he is basically The Omen's Damien without the theology.

There is sense that Eva is being punished for being a career woman and not some fecund earth mother.

Swinton resembles a cross between Charles Hawtrey and Vanessa Redgrave in a Joan of Arc hairdo in the scenes where Kevin is young and she seems to be living out a guilt-ridden martyrdom in the scenes set after Kevin's very bad deeds.

It's a very impressive return for Ramsay but probably doesn't quite match up to the standard of Callar or the phantom Lovely Bones which exists in the collective imagination of film lovers.


Director: Lynne Ramsay

Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller and Ashley Gerasinovich

Length: 110 mins