Problem Child

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a horror for parents, and everyone else.

Kid isn\'t all right.
Kid isn\'t all right.

We’ve been told that kids — even the most foulmouthed, obnoxious, bouncing-off-the-wall ones — are innocent and loveable. We’re supposed to dogmatically accept this to be truth. But, come on. Some kids are just assholes.

And it’s an asshole kid that director Lynne Ramsay focuses on with We Need to Talk About Kevin.

This is, for all intents and purposes, a horror movie.

That’s not meant to be a slight, necessarily. It’s just the truth. If you have kids, have ever entertained the idea of having kids, or have maybe only seen kids at Target, you will likely find this film terrifying. That’s OK. Kids can be terrifying, especially when they’re born without a conscience, like the titular character in Ramsay’s psychological drama.

Like most kids, Kevin has a mother, and that mother is forced to pretend to do the motherly duty of not hating one’s child. And because, again, Kevin is such a creepy spawn of Satan, that is supernaturally difficult for our hero, Eva (Tilda Swinton). Appearing less elfin than usual, Swinton plays, as far as we can tell, some sort of travel writer or explorer or book cover model or some other profession that requires jaunts to far-off places and pictures of one’s face on the front of a book. She marries a guy (a totally not-Stepbrothers John C. Reilly) who doesn’t realize that the kid they’ve welcomed into the world is hellbent on destroying their burgeoning family unit.

The film is told in a jarringly nonlinear fashion, with the audience meeting Eva after something has clearly gone horribly, terribly wrong with her life, making her a pariah in her community. Intercut are scenes from Kevin’s childhood, from a crying baby to a not-yet-potty-trained 7-year-old (yes, 7-year-old) who seems to fill his diaper with equal amounts of spite and crap, all of it aimed at his mother. Gradually, Kevin grows into a creepy, emo teen ager whose only discernible interests appear to be archery and scowling as we build toward what, from the beginning of the film, we can tell, is an impending catastrophe.

Ramsay, working off a script adapted from Lionel Shriver’s novel, has an insanely engaging premise here: “What if you had a kid and that kid turned out to be a demon from the depths of hell?” Why mess with it?

The editing acrobatics employed to juggle the narrative are certainly impressive, but they’re ultimately distracting, leaving the viewer wondering which way is up for much of the first half-hour and then grasping to piece together the story from then on out.

The child-from-hell story in film is hardly new. We’ve seen The Exorcist and The Omen and Problem Child 2 and, more recently, The Orphanage all mess with our supposed natural inclination to not be scared of kids.

What Kevin does, though — thanks to stunning performances by Swinton and Ezra Miller (a chilling teenage Kevin) — is make us scared of kids with nothing supernatural in the background. Eva’s personal battle with alternately hating, loving and fearing her son leaks through the screen, leaving us to meditate on the issue of parenthood as a whole.

It’s clear her son is horrible, but we’re left unable to forgive her for not doing, well, something.

Likely, your kids, your future kids or your neighbor’s kids are not as bad as Kevin. But still, this movie is going to make you terrified — maybe just for a second — of children.

We Need to Talk About Kevin Rated R
Directed by Lynne Ramsay
Starring Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller

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About The Author

Mike Bookey

Mike Bookey is the culture editor for The Inlander. He previously held the same position at The Source Weekly in Bend, Ore.