PLOT: Eva is a woman seemingly full of life. She meets Franklin, a man she falls for immediately. After an unexpected pregnancy, she struggles with her worth and abilities as a mother - especially when it turns out their son, Kevin, exhibits sociopathic tendencies from a young age. Their strained mother-son relationship frames the tale of a violent school shooting as Kevin grows into a deeply disturbed teenager.
REVIEW: I saw many quote-unquote scary movies at Fantastic Fest this year, but none packed the emotional wallop and sheer terror of WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN.
Based on the 2003 novel of the same name, KEVIN follows the titular son of Eva and Franklin (Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly), who has struggled making a decent human connection since he was born. An unexpected child, Eva puts her career as a promising travel-writer on hold, to stay home with Kevin. A colicky babe, he cries relentlessly, so much so that Eva parks his stroller next to a construction site so that the rattle of the jackhammers drowns out his screams and gives her a few brief seconds of peace.
While Eva finds it near impossible to bond with Kevin, the boy takes an almost immediate shining to his father. But Franklin coddles the boy mercilessly and treats him more like a friend than a son. The title is never spoken in the film, but you can imagine how frequently it would be off-camera, as Franklin seems to live completely oblivious of Kevin's antisocial behavior.
The film is told in non-linear fashion (you follow the timeline by noting Swinton's haircut - short is pre-Kevin and long is post-Kevin) and begins with Eva, now begging for menial work at a travel agency, struggling by herself. Vandals have thrown buckets of red paint on her home and she spends countless weekends on her hands and knees scrubbing and scrubbing trying to wash it all away. It's not spoiling anything to mention the massacre at the school - the audience, just like Eva knows something bad is going to happen and spends the film anxiously wondering when the other shoe is going to drop.
The color red plays an important role in the film, whether it's the paint caked underneath Eva's fingernails, a display of soup cans Eva uses to hide from locals who wish her dead or the opening sequence that shows a younger, happier Eva frolicking at a tomato festival. The color symbolizes both her love and anger for Kevin - two feelings she has simultaneously for the young boy.
Swinton gives a superb performance as a mother who spends the majority of her time wondering what she's done wrong and feeling completely powerless to fix it. She brings a remarkable nuance to the role, allowing viewers wonder whether her ambivalence towards motherhood (and subsequent attempts to play catch up) could have ultimately affected Kevin's life. But despite that nature vs. nurture debate, we still feel connected with Eva as Swinton brings a necessary humanity to the role.
Eva was never a perfect mother - the teenage boy still sports a scar from when she threw him to the ground (something he refers to as the only honest thing she ever did) - but far from the cause of Kevin's problem. Kevin, as played by Ezra Miller as a teen, exhibits the detached creepiness of someone possessed by evil. Sure, his mother's inadequacies didn't help but they weren't what pushed Kevin to the edge.
Kevin is one of the more frightening movie villains in recent memory, partly because we get to spend such time with one of his biggest victims. Unlike the students who crossed Kevin's path, Eva lives on, but is dead inside. Yet despite it all, she still visits her son in jail, even if she just sit across and stares into his cold, dead eyes.
One day, when Lionsgate finally releases its A-list packed adaptation of WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING, these two films will make a good primer for expecting parents. The wonder of what can go right and the terror of what can go wrong. KEVIN is a haunting character study of a mother and her son that will leave you as frightened as any traditional horror movie.