I hate this film. This film is brilliant. In this rare instance, these sentences do not contradict.
In order for this sentiment to make any sense, you must understand that I believe in two types of “good” movies. One is the kind that seasoned critics will usually appreciate, with tight storytelling, effective atmosphere, and often a stellar performance by Meryl Streep. The other kind is less intellectual, an instinctual sort of “happy reflex” that goes off whenever something basic is satisfied even if it doesn’t stimulate the mind – you know, the triggers that make women like romantic comedies (most of the time) and men like Michael Bay-level explosions (….I’m not going to lie, this is near-universal).
The key here is that one “good” can be satisfied and not the other. In the case of We Need To Talk About Kevin, director Lynne Ramsay focused on the former “good” and made a superb adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Lionel Shriver. Previously deemed ‘unfilmable’ due to its unconventional method of telling its story – through a sequence of letters – Ramsay brilliantly molds the format into a dual, alternating timeline. As a result, as Eva Khatchadourian’s current state and the past events she recollects draw closer and closer, an immense sense of dread and surrendered hopelessness surround the film.
Tilda Swinton is flawless, as both the mother dreading (in flashbacks) what she believes her son may be and the shell of a woman she later becomes while coping with his inhuman acts. She’s not dead, clearly shows a desire to be, and yet she can’t stop surviving. Ezra Miller perfectly mutates the titular son into what we all believed “Rosemary’s baby” might be in puberty, while John C. Reilly displays a sense of growing frustration and necessary-for-sanity optimism that is a dramatic eternity from his Will Ferrell-esque comedies.
The cinematography is poignantly symbolic, subtle foreshadowing is well-executed…but for the love of all that is good, do not see this film! It is a devastating look at the prospect of parenthood, made all the more devastating by the additional twist when the timelines collide. It leaves no hope, ultimately claiming that the question of nature or nurture does not matter – only what actions you and your loved ones make, and the realization that anyone around you (including yourself) could become a monster with time. It crushes any attempt to lift your spirits, leaving a heart-crushing message of embracing what’s familiar even if it destroys us.
If you want to see a brilliant retelling of a groundbreaking novel, see this fantastic film. But for the sake of your soul’s hope for a happy tomorrow, I cannot recommend it. However you’ve ended up, decide for yourself.
– Ian Clemente