During last year’s awards season, We Need to Talk About Kevin garnered a lot of attention due to Tilda Swinton’s performance. Many people believed that she not only deserved an Oscar nomination, she also deserved to win the award. Everyone appeared to be talking about her performance, with very few people discussing the actual film that she was in. Because of this, it appeared that We Need to Talk About Kevin would be an example of a mediocre film that contains a fantastic performance. This is not the case, as We Need to Talk About Kevin is an incredible film that is equal parts frightening and heartbreaking.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is told out of chronological order, intercutting between the past and the present. It follows a woman named Eva (Tilda Swinton), who lives a life of depression due to a tragic event. The exact nature of this event is not revealed until the end of the film, but it is clearly something awful and it involved her son Kevin. In the aftermath of the event, neighbors vandalize her house and a woman slaps Eva as she is walking down the street. The film then uses flashbacks to show what happened leading up to the tragedy. We see Eva giving birth to Kevin with the lovable Franklin (John C. Reilly) and the two of them attempting to raise him together. Eva thinks that there is something wrong with the child but, unfortunately, no one believes her.

Nearly every scene in We Need to Talk About Kevin is filled to the brim with tension. Even from an early age, it is clear that there was something wrong with Eva’s son. As a baby, he constantly cried while he was with his mother, but stopped whenever his father picked him up. His cries became so unbearable, that Eva began to listen to a jackhammer for relief. As a toddler, he would do whatever he could to drive his mother crazy. He refused to talk and he continued to use diapers, well past the age when he should stop. It seems that Kevin’s only goal was to terrorize his mother and his inability to follow her orders is frightening.

Despite being so unnerving that one could classify it as a horror film, there is actually very little onscreen violence. Instead, director Lynne Ramsay chooses to show how the power of suggestion can be the most frightening aspect of all. A scene where Eva is terrorized by children on Halloween could be representative of her personal demons and the demons in her life that were created through her son’s actions. Whether or not what we see in this scene is real, or if it is simply occurring in Eva’s head, is an aspect of the film that is left up to the viewer.

Despite such a dark subject matter, the film is actually visually colorful. These vivid colors create a stark contrast with the tone of the film. The music in the film also contains lighthearted tracks that range from Buddy Holly to the Beach Boys and, while they were most likely added to create another contrast with the rest of the film, they feel forced and out of place. Still, this is a minor complaint in an otherwise remarkable film.

As Eva, Tilda Swinton is nothing short of phenomenal. Her performance is very subtle, yet it is clear why it is one of the most talked about aspects of the film. She completely becomes the character and never misses a beat. Any other actress would have portrayed Eva as a cold and angry woman, but Swinton is able to make her character feel entirely relatable. Sure, she may be a poor mother, but she does not deserve any of what happens to her. Swinton’s performance is what elevates the film from sad to utterly heartbreaking.

Three different actors (Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell and Rocky Duer) portray Kevin and they are all dynamite. Every single one of them has a very creepy aura surrounding them, yet they never overdo it. It is rare to find child actors this good. This is also representative of the film’s excellent casting, because not only does each actor look like an older version of the one before him, but they all look like they could be Swinton’s son. As Franklin, John C. Reilly is still slightly goofy, but his goofiness is what brings warmth to his performance. He is a father who loves his kids more than anything, a fact that makes a third act revelation all the more heartbreaking.

Is Kevin a result of Eva’s poor parenting, or is Kevin truly evil? The film never directly answers this but, in this writer’s opinion, the answer becomes clear in the final few scenes. We Need to Talk About Kevin never attempts to answer the questions that it raises. Instead, it chooses to explore them with such detail that they will be swimming inside the mind of the viewer for days. When Eva asks her son why he did what he did, he responds with one of the most disturbing lines in the entire film: “I used to think I knew, but now I’m not so sure.” If director Lynne Ramsay’s goal was to make people think twice about having children, she did a masterful job.

We Need to Talk About Kevin receives 4/4

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