The evil child has been a powerful symbol in horror and fantastic fiction for decades. The Children Of The Damned. The Children Of The Corn. The Others. Most boys called Damian.
To that roster we can finally add Kevin Katchadorian. In Lionel Shriber’s acclaimed novel, he stalked the pages while never really springing out at us. The book’s structure, built as a series of letters, provided a sense of distance from him. That may have been a kindness. Thanks to the extraordinary work of director Lynne Ramsey and the actor she chose to play Kevin, Ezra Miller, we are drawn uncomfortably close to Kevin. Close enough to see the fire rising in his eyes.
The story is simple, and resonant. Told through the eyes of Kevin’s mother Eva, we are led through Kevin’s life, and how from the very beginning he was somehow … different. Incapable of love. Manipulative, to an extent that Machiavelli would have admired. Utterly free from morals, from any iota of empathy with the world. A monster.
Ramsey plays with time, sliding us back and forth along the eighteen years from Kevin’s birth to the awful event that he engineers to define himself. We realise early on what he has done, but the director is canny enough to keep one big shock from us until the end. Meanwhile, the monster grows. Throughout, we see Kevin as Eva sees him. In some ways, she is the only person who Kevin chooses to be honest with. With her, he doesn’t hide his true state. With her, he is always truthful.
The film is soaked in crimson, scarlet, bloody washes saturating the screen. It’s the most painterly film I’ve seen in a long time, giallo-garish, lush as an Argento. Ramsey, her DoP Seamus McGarvey and colourist Stuart Fyvie have done extraordinary work here, flooding the screen with coloured light.
The performances throughout are equally remarkable. Ezra Miller, and the boys that play him as a child, create a brooding, demonic presence. A trickster, charming when he needs to be, terrible when the mask slips. Tilda Swinton shines through the horror, bruised, wounded yet never defeated. The final meeting between her and her son tells you everything you need to know about a mother’s love for her son, no matter what the cost. Thinking about it, it also tells you why she stays in a town that despises her – and why, to a certain extent, she is blamed for Kevin’s actions. The greatest horror of all is how unconditional, how illogical, how unbreakable that love can be.
2011 is becoming a bumper year for horrors with strong central female characters, and to my mind We Need To Talk About Kevin fits right in with films like The Skin I Live In and The Woman. These are films that deal with aspects of womanhood, and the darkness at the core of that state. WNTTAK is by far the subtlest of these, keeping the nastiness largely off screen. Yet it still has the power to shock and chill, largely because Ramsey builds a skewed, disturbing atmosphere and allows our imagination to do the rest. This is an astonishing achievement from film-makers at the top of their game. You need to see We Need To Talk About Kevin.