We Need To Talk About Kevin

  • Film
  • Drama
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British filmmaker Lynne Ramsay’s third feature after ‘Ratcatcher’ (1999) and ‘Morvern Callar’ (2002) is an adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s best-selling book of the same name, but there’s nothing remotely literary about Ramsay’s long-awaited comeback. She ditches the novel’s structure of an American wife, Eva (Tilda Swinton), writing letters to her husband, Franklin (John C Reilly), in the wake of their son committing a terrible crime, but keeps the book’s darting back and forth in time as we come to understand more of the woman, marriage and family that bore a killer.

Words firmly take a back seat in favour of the haunting power of image and sound as Ramsay turns Shriver’s novel into mesmerising and provocative cinema. ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin’ is intense, first-person storytelling as Ramsay and Swinton draw us into the head and world of Eva, just as Ramsay did with Samantha Morton in ‘Morvern Callar’. Yet there’s also a cutting portrait of a family at its heart that makes home life feel like civil war as Ramsay runs with Shriver’s bold ideas about the alienation of parenthood and its devastating effect on love and marriage. Only in its latter stages does the film settle down – a little – into longer scenes and the need to resolve what happened to Kevin. He’s played by a staggeringly creepy Ezra Miller, who inherits the same know-it-all, spooky demeanour of a younger actor, Jasper Newell, earlier in the movie.

The film is at its best in its first hour or so, when it is most daring. The opening sees Eva’s sleeping dream of being carried aloft at a Spanish tomato festival morph into a waking nightmare of her modest house being attacked with red paint. Tomatoes become paint until soon, via ketchup, there are hints of sirens and blood. Sound design is as rigorously and creatively employed: a prisoner’s scream turns into a baby’s cry turns into the wail of a drill.

The film is full of such clever, teasing juxtapositions as thematic links are made between past and present. A distant Christmas for Eva spent in the bosom of her family dissolves to Christmas present and her solitary life as a teen prisoner’s mother and public outcast. We’re never sure whether what we see is the reality of events or Eva’s memory of them. Context is limited and Ramsay’s take on this story is far removed from social commentary or explanation. This is a portrait of a family, channelled through the memories and feelings of the mother herself.

Ramsay challenges even Pedro Almodóvar for an evocative use of red and the look of her film, as shot by Seamus McGarvey, is fragmented, often blurry, close-up, full of detail, preferring to show Eva’s nervous feet as she exits a courthouse  – Swinton is a physically awkward presence throughout – rather than her face. If some of the family scenes feel like a domestic war movie, with subtle talk of competitions and victories (‘Well, you won,’ says Eva to Kevin on the mini-golf course), others feel like a horror movie: a scene in which Eva drives through her area at Halloween is chilling.

‘We Need to Talk about Kevin’ is thought-provoking, confident and fearless. It’s experimental but never alienating and horrific in all the right ways. It’s great to have Ramsay back behind the camera after too long an absence. Bring on the next one.

Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday October 21 2011
Duration: 110 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Screenwriter: Lynne Ramsay
Cast: Tilda Swinton
John C Reilly
Ezra Miller
Siobhan Fallon

Average User Rating

3.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:40
  • 4 star:14
  • 3 star:5
  • 2 star:12
  • 1 star:9
LiveReviews|80
2 people listening
Kirsty E
Tastemaker

Having been utterly enthralled by the book, I wasn't sure what to expect from the movie and wondered whether it would do the story justice. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it almost lived up to expectations.

I can understand why it would not be to everyone's taste. This is a disturbing, sickening and heart wrenching thriller, based on an almost taboo subject matter. However, it is so thought provoking and different that it is definitely worth a watch. The only thing I would say is make sure you read the book first as the ending is far more of a surprise and the writing is simply stunning.

David

Even though the superb performance by Watson and supporting cast, this movie tries to depict a dark reality in American soil, which is in no way accurate. Through the strong beginning, we follow Watson's character through her past and present to get a taste of her misery before and after the bow and arrow shooting, but the movie doesn't seem to go past the artistic symbolism and long quiet scenes. Even better it tries to confuse the audience with it's message of nurture vs nature, but never really finds a satisfying conclusion, and Eva never really finds an understanding of what happened. This movie lacks legitimate research beyond a google search, and seems to have a foreign view of American life. What fascinates me more is how Europeans seem to think they have a stronger understanding of American troubles, than American's themselves. One day there will be a movie that does find a true depiction of this subject matter, but "We need to Talk about Kevin," is not it. Instead the story is so far from the truth it should be categorized as a psychological horror.

Laura

I disagree with you about what this movie is about a lot. Here's some of my idea's: I think that "Kevin" was certainly not portrayed as a devil's child. I agree with Callie on this one. Kevin and his mum never really seemed to bond. Instead the opposite seems to happen, their relationship slowly gets worse. From "crying unloved baby" to "ballistic toddler" to a teenager that hates the world. I think in this movie, Kevin has noticed that his mum never really got attached to him. She's trying to look like a good parent, but he sees right through her. She should have confronted him with his bad behaviour - his father should have as well, he just wants to act as if everything's fine. Kevin starts to hate his mum and wanted to show her how bad of a parent she is. He's highly intelligent and plays in to his father's attempts of being a normal family, and probably considers this father to be dumb. I think this is a parents' nightmare - the idea of not loving or bonding with your child right from the beginning. Eva (the mum) keeps looking back to see what she did wrong, so almost the entire movie consists of flashbacks... I don't think she's the only one to blame, maybe partly, but also the father who turned a blind eye to what his child was growing into: a monster (I do think the child ended up as a monster, but not that he was born a monster). If anyone disagrees, don't take it personally this is simply my view. All in all I liked to movie a lot, but I can see why some people would find the artistic way of filming a bit frustrating. There are almost no conversations and it takes quite some time until you find out what happened, and some important questions are never answered ("Why? Or: why not Eva?").

Mike

Aurora CO must be disgusted with this movie. Are there not too many similarites to be a coincidence?

louie

PLEASE STOP SHOWING THESE KIND OF MOVIE, MAYBE THESE MOVIE TRIGGERED THE ONE WHO KILLED THE CHILDREN IN THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL IN UNITED STATES. PEOPLE WITH BRAIN PROBLEMS SOMETIMES IMITATES THE ONE THEY ARE WATCHING, THEY DO NOT KNOW IF IT IS RIGHT OR WRONG.

Movie Mavim

Brilliant portrayal of a desperately dysfunctional family and of a child who was was born evil. Another Bad Seed.There are so many killers out there who act out and we all wonder how it happened. You need a license to drive a car, You need a license to fish. But anyone can have a baby and raise it without any preparation or license. It's amazing so many of us turn out normal.

Callie

I think what most people don't realize is what the son actually has wrong with him, and hate the movie because they don't understand. I have lived with people like this and it is actually quiet horrible. They call it 'Reactive Attachment Dissorder' and most of the time it's not the mothers fault, but in a wierd way it is. RAD is when, within the first two years of a child's life, they do not bond with their mother for whatever reason; in Eva's case, most likely post natal depression. The reason that Kevin did all the bad stuff was to a) get the control back over his life that he lost within those years and b) to show his mother that it was all her fault. I'm glad that someone has finally done something to make this issue a little more known and because of this, I do really like the movie. If you agree with me, read 'the trouble with Alex' by Melanie Allen. It's kinda like this but is all truth. If you think I'm a moron, I don't really want to hear it. RAD is a problem that is close to my heart and I'm just trying to make it clearer to people that dot know. That is all.

Adam

Seriously?... We have enough of these stories true on the news all the time. Why make a film about it? Its sad and depressing. Pointless.

Merle

Amazing! Off to get the book!.loved it! Omg! That was awesome!! Dark & griping! Lost reaction! One of the best movie ever!! .

Merle

Amazing! Off to get the book!.loved it! Omg! That was awesome!! Dark & griping! Lost reaction! One of the best movie ever!! .

greg

My ratings on movies largely depend on how the movie ends and this one missed the mork. I read that the director edited what would have been the perfect way to end and sum up the movie: in the last scene, Eva asks Kevin a question everyone was anticipating 'Why didn't you kill me" - although the question was obvious the edited out answer was classic - "You don't kill your audience."

Bazinga

What a fabulous thought provoking film. The subject material is quite different to many of the happy USA family films we so often see. The actors well cast and really acted well especialyy the kevins and Eva. An excellent book. Likewise an excellent film

Bazinga

What a fabulous thought provoking film. The subject material is quite different to many of the happy USA family films we so often see. The actors well cast and really acted well especialyy the kevins and Eva. An excellent book. Likewise an excellent film

trip

Just a very bad movie. No story. You just learn very slowly what happened. I don't call "wanting to understand what you are watching" a good suspense. It take the first 15 minutes to start to understand just a little bit of what the movie is about. During the first 15 minutes you just watch images (good images sometimes, but thats not enough). Then there is the story with the kid. Absolutely terrible. People speak about this movie as if it was teaching something about where evilness comes from, nature vs nurture. I saw nothing of that. The movie basically tells that some people are intrinsically evil from the day they are born, which is a totally stupid and unrealistic idea. This movie doesn't help you to understand anything, you don't learn anything. The point of view is totally unilateral, it says the mother has no responsibility for her kid to be evil. Then there is no story, no point, no characters, nothing. Just 2 hours stolen from my life.

marylou

The movie shouldnt be.filming it is bad example for.anyone who watched it and will do the same thing in real life. I figured all out at the of the show. Just beware to if you are going to watched it.

Connie Knop

It is a TERRIBLE film. The characters are stiff and cold and unreal. The pace of the film is slow and boring, even with the horrifying blood-based scenes that permeate it. I turned it off 1/2 of the way through --just disgusted with it all.

JDH

Disturbing. Brilliant cinematography. Psychologically well devleloped and thoughtfully considered. Excellent acting. The role of nurture is explored with subtlety and legitimacy. The role of nature, though, is ignored, but not dismissed. We're left to wonder what role it plays, and whether the much younger daughter who is so very different from Kevin is the product of a much improved and more mature nurture, a simple lack of colic for the mother to respond to and serve as a foundation for the parent child dynamic thereafter, or is it all the result of a different roll of the genetic dice. A must see movie.

JDH

Disturbing. Brilliant cinematography. Psychologically well devleloped and thoughtfully considered. Excellent acting. The role of nurture is explored with subtlety and legitimacy. The role of nature, though, is ignored, but not dismissed. We're left to wonder what role it plays, and whether the much younger daughter who is so very different from Kevin is the product of a much improved and more mature nurture, a simple lack of colic for the mother to respond to and serve as a foundation for the parent child dynamic thereafter, or is it all the result of a different roll of the genetic dice. A must see movie.

Monica

This film was dreadfully disturbing. Yes it kept my attention but only to figure out what happened and why. And the ending was disappointing.

Judith

Unbelievably dissturbing. Curious. Did the mother create the monster by not being able to connect or consol a constantly crying baby or was the spawn just a sociopathic manipulative bad seed. What was difficult to understand was how the husband could not see Kevin's evil nature.

Mark H

The comment you tyJust watched it and while the story unfolds as expected and the subtext of blood symbolism is over used, 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' is deeply disturbing and thought provoking. I actually felt genuinely nauseas after watching this, which is significant as the only real violence shown was one woman punching another in the street and a little blood on bodies at the very end. It does not attempt to address issues of inherent psychopathology, there is not the time and it is not the point of this specific interpretation of the tale. But it does invoke the question: are some people just born evil? Is it a form of brain damage, bad parenting or something more inexplicably insidious? I have yet to have children, but have young nieces and nephews who are all very different. One is an angel thus far, another a rather difficult child to love despite near perfect parenting. The personal fear this brings to me and other prospective parents is, of course, what if I get a Kevin?

imara

Deeply disturbing. This movie will haunt me for a while. Certain scenes are just too painful to watch and play over and over in your mind. I think it's an amazing movie which has been directed by a genius. At the end it of it all, you can't even hate the boy for his unspeakable crime, you sense that he is just a confused, damaged and disturbed kid who was obsessed with his mother. Reality seems to have finally sunk in and he will have to live with the guilt of killing so many but especially his father whom he seemed to love for the rest of his life. It also shows us the unbelievable and unconditional love a mother is capable of feeling for her offspring. It also shows us that as parents we should all be ultra sensitive to the nuances and the vibes kids may send out. Do not give bows and arrows to a kid with a latent penchant for violence and do not ask a kid with this type of evil undercurrent to watch over his sister! A truly horryfying movie. The world may seem like a dark and hopeless place for a few days after you watch this.......

imara

Deeply disturbing. This movie will haunt me for a while. Certain scenes are just too painful to watch and play over and over in your mind. I think it's an amazing movie which has been directed by a genius. At the end it of it all, you can't even hate the boy for his unspeakable crime, you sense that he is just a confused, damaged and disturbed kid who was obsessed with his mother. Reality seems to have finally sunk in and he will have to live with the guilt of killing so many but especially his father whom he seemed to love for the rest of his life. It also shows us the unbelievable and unconditional love a mother is capable of feeling for her offspring. It also shows us that as parents we should all be ultra sensitive to the nuances and the vibes kids may send out. Do not give bows and arrows to a kid with a latent penchant for violence and do not ask a kid with this type of evil undercurrent to watch over his sister! A truly horryfying movie. The world may seem like a dark and hopeless place for a few days after you watch this.......

Tim Harwood

This film is one of the most chilling and yet superlative films I have seen in a long while. The acting throughout is exemplary and the visual narratives replave the epistolarly structure of Lionel Shriver's novel. It's a 5 out of 5 for this viewer

Tim Harwood

This film is one of the most chilling and yet superlative films I have seen in a long while. The acting throughout is exemplary and the visual narratives replave the epistolarly structure of Lionel Shriver's novel. It's a 5 out of 5 for this viewer

john o sullivan

I saw 77 fgilms last year and Kevin was great..along with Moneyball,Melancholia and the Artist among the best of 2011

Marek

Need to see a lot more films, eh John Sebastian? I happen to have seen a fair few, and this is a pretty good one. As for the rest of your e-mail, the less said the better

Marek

Need to see a lot more films, eh John Sebastian? I happen to have seen a fair few, and this is a pretty good one. As for the rest of your e-mail, the less said the better

Jack1Ace

How I wish Time Out would get its act together and save four and five star ratings for the truly worthy films. FIVE stars should be relinquished (stingily) and only for la creme de la creme of films -- 'unmissable' gems. 'Kevin' was anything but. A pretentious overblown mess. Tilda can make most anything watchable but the film had almost zero depth and resonance and was so saturated with blood red symbolism and portentous music to be borderline ridiculous. So the kid was a bad seed. Period. That's it. Despite the media frenzies of the past, how often has this scenario really happened?? I don't know how many film reviewers Time Out has on its staff but what's becoming obvious is that one may as well flip a coin rather than trust them. The reviews are well-written (usually) and can be fun to read but in future I'll be searching somewhere else when I'm on the lookout for an excellent film.

iain hamilton

I actually posted this on facebook but here you go, I think it's apposite (and btw, reader John Sebastian's comment on this thread about Claire Denis' The Intruder is spot-on): Well, after the ddreary My Week with Marilyn came the superb, unmissable THE ARTIST followed by the brilliant, can't-take-your-eyes-off the-screen-a-pee-will-just-have-to-wait George Clooney/Alexander Payne Hawaiian-set THE DESCENDANTS. But tonight, alas, the seriously underwhelming We Need to Talk About Kevin, which Lynne Ramsay directs with a thumpingly heavy hand - could there be any more wanton over-use of saturated red (think: ketchup, a child's truck, traffic stop lights, copious amounts of strawberry jam, red plastic office chairs, paint, the Valencian tomato festival - yes really) as a persistent visual metaphor for the climactic massacre? Of course, Tilda (lit with lots and lots of red gels) emotes magnificently but only 2 stars for the movie. For post-Columbine flicks, Gus Van Sant's chilling Elephant is the way to go.

UZ

I haven’t read the book but found the film very disappointing for two reasons. Reason 1: the first 30 minutes completely give away the ending, so it becomes fairly pointless watching the remaining hour knowing exactly what will happen and hoping for some sort of a twist that never comes. Reason 2: the psychology between the mother and the son is very much scraping the surface. You can tell that there is something deep down there but whatever it is, it’s not properly explored so you end up with this weird predicament of a child-monster without any real reasons to be. That said, the cast is outstanding (we all know Tilda Swindon is an amazing actress anyway but how on earth do you make little boys act this well?!) , the camera work is so good and the sound track is so clever - they make you fall in love with the film. Pity in my case it lasted for the first 30 mins only

scrumpyjack

Pushes the evil son's, well, evilness a little too far in some early scenes (yes, we can see he's a little sh*t - soon to be a big one) to the extent I thought Ramsey had blown it for 5 min, but recovers brilliantly to end up as nothing less than a must see and a richly deserved Oscar nom for Swinton at least 8/10.

tanya

the book was brilliant...the movie missed the point...eva never wanted kevin ...the book is about the psychological effects which are highlighted through kevin's behaviour.. even though she has cared for him all keivn did is tried to get back at her through all his action...it was just a game for him, all to hurt eva. It's all to do with the relationship mother-child and the fact that that he felt unwanted even before he was born...many significant aspect are missing from the movie...whoever enjoyed the movie should read the book.

jules

I feel the need to write a review about kevin. How do Swinton and Reilly manage to have a chinese kid? Why does Swinton keep cleaning the red paint from her house why not move or have done with it and paint her house red? Why does Reillys character force Swinton to thank a fully grown chinese damian for phoning the ambulance when his kid sister is blinded by chemicals whilst he is babysitting, what was he supposed to do? Why does everyone persecute Swintons character when she is one of the biggest victims in the event? If for what ever reason you feel the need to watch a good film on a high school masacre watch Elephant, if you want to watch a film about an evil little kid watch The Omen, if you want to watch a film about the seed of a fat bloke and a neurotic travel agent chimp out with a bow and arrow (not that you actually see this, that might be interesting) look no further.

Marek

This was an excellent film. It is horrific, but very thought-provoking. I found the direction and the acting very good indeed. The music suited the film very well.

Marek

This was an excellent film. It is horrific, but very thought-provoking. I found the direction and the acting very good indeed. The music suited the film very well.

Justin Berkovi

A brilliantly executed nightmare of human nastiness and my favourite Swinton performance to date. The cinematography and sound design are beautiful as is the editing, just excellent. However where the film falls down is perhaps in the plot and execution of story. We're left almost wondering what the entire purpose of the film was, that's not to say the journey wasn't worthwhile.

caro darling

D Glowacki could not have said it better. The book was excellent and while you can appreciate a film often can not live up to a book this falls far short. It was not boring exactly nor was it good. Certainly not worth the hype sadly.

Christopher Jackson

very disappointing , not bad but nothing like as good as all the plaudints make it. cant make up mind whether to give it one or 2 stars. feeling generous and giving it two on basis it wasnt awgful awful

J Whitten

I went to see the film from the perspective of a counsellor who Often has to help clients make sense of why they are the way they are based on their own parenting. Tilda played an amazing part in her portrayal of a woman, enjoying her life and lust of a man before finding herself pregnant. Her resentment of the boy from the day he was born had a huge impact on the way that he was able to attach to his mother and so came the long 16 year battle for the both of them to find the love from One another that they both do desperately craved but were too stubborn to do anything about. I don't think that some of the reviewers have truly understood the impact of a mothers rejection at the all important early stages of a child's development and the ensuing massacre was proof of how affected the child was because of this. Brilliant film if you can read between the lines.

J Whitten

I went to see the film from the perspective of a counsellor who Often has to help clients make sense of why they are the way they are based on their own parenting. Tilda played an amazing part in her portrayal of a woman, enjoying her life and lust of a man before finding herself pregnant. Her resentment of the boy from the day he was born had a huge impact on the way that he was able to attach to his mother and so came the long 16 year battle for the both of them to find the love from One another that they both do desperately craved but were too stubborn to do anything about. I don't think that some of the reviewers have truly understood the impact of a mothers rejection at the all important early stages of a child's development and the ensuing massacre was proof of how affected the child was because of this. Brilliant film if you can read between the lines.

Nicola H

As a mother of three children (one of whom is autistic), I could really relate to this film. I thought it was brilliantly acted and it held my attention throughout! It is a film that I will always remember! Loved it!

Nicola H

As a mother of three children (one of whom is autistic), I could really relate to this film. I thought it was brilliantly acted and it held my attention throughout! It is a film that I will always remember! Loved it!

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