No amount of beautiful imagery or poetic editing can make up for the fact that We Need to Talk About Kevin is a boneheaded, manipulative, hateful film frighteningly detached from reality. Try as I might to understand this film as either horror or black comedy, no genre or spin can excuse the shallow shock value of this picture. Director Lynne Ramasy creates a film hellbent on making you squirm, but it’s a cheap effect nearly synonymous with a favorite quote of mine from George Lucas – “If you want me to make you feel something, that’s not hard. I’ll choke a kitten in front of you, and you’ll feel something.”
What we are meant to feel in We Need to Talk About Kevin is Tilda Swinton’s grief and confusion. The film peels back layers of fragmented events as both Swinton and the audience try to figure out what caused her son to grow into a homicidal maniac. These questions of what drives a child to kill, what role do the parents play in such a tragedy, and how can a parent carry on or move on after such a tragedy are extremely interesting questions, but Ramasy shows little concern in addressing them. What she is going for is spine-tingling, edge-of-the-seat, nail-biting, with an art-house gloss. It’s the same old popcorn with a different spice.
Kevin is shown as a product of passion that leads to misery. His arrival brings about depression. He forces Swinton from her beloved New York apartment. He dampers her globe-trotting lifestyle. He cramps her career. He ultimately ruins everything. He destroys happiness. I find it confusing that a female character should be punished for having a career or enjoying sex. This seems far more like Lars von Trier territory. Then again, if you are going for shock and awe I suppose von Trier is the bar you need to measure yourself against.
Overall, I simply do not understand the behaviors or actions of the characters in this film. I ask, “How do they carry on?” Ramasy asks, “How much can I torture you?” She deploys characters and scenes like pawns just waiting to be capture or crushed. At the center of the game she is playing is Tilda Swinton a mother tormented and frightened by her son. Cinema has had other mothers scared by their offspring. Just look to The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby, The Bad Seed, even It’s Alive. The difference here is that Kevin is not supernatural. He is meant to be all too real. The typical child destined to shoot up his school. So, if Kevin is meant as normal, not supernatural, why is his parent’s actions and reactions do inhuman? They never react. They never get upset. They never push back in a way that makes any sense. They act like no one I know. They give me no reason to feel for them other then on the most basic level. They act like movie characters manipulated to spark a reaction in the audience. They are like Lucas’ cat.