(Lynne Ramsay, 2011)
Bathed in the red of blood from its very first scenes, which segue into a really extraordinary first act of non-linear emotional and tonal free association, told loosely from the point of view of Tilda Swinton's character. She is struggling with grief and regret and trying desperately to drag herself through a "normal" life while continuously assailed by memories of her past life; a transcendent moment at a surreal tomato festival in Spain, the glow of passion from the early days with her husband, the bright bubbliness of her daughter. And Kevin.
Kevin is a near-Satanic presence in that first act, a screaming infant, a scowling toddler, a brattish boy and finally a knowing, sarcastic teen. The relationship between mother and son is central to the film, and both Swinton and Ezra Miller rise to it in their scenes together, a delicate duel between two combatants locked in a love/hate dynamic.
That is over-simplistic, which Ramsay's film never is. Rather it is ambiguous in the right places and elliptical throughout, refusing exposition and doling out backstory piecemeal so that when the extent of Kevin's act is revealed - though we already know what he has done - still it carries a huge emotional shock. The fractured sequence when Swinton arrives at Kevin's high-school and we see hysteria and bodies on gurneys, lit by the red light of emergency vehicles, is purgatorial, for we know that for all her anxiety worrying about her son and his safety, her situation is about to get much worse. Her numb shock in the aftermath - a state that pulses through the film in scenes of her echoed responses to the world and it's distant banality. She finds a job, a house, shops, feeds herself, tries to avoid the parents of Kevin's victims, all of it without feeling, Swinton's face frozen with shock.
The dominant emotion for a long stretch is dread. Much of this film feels like Horror, partly because we know what Kevin will do.
Ramsay never tries to explain his actions; his final "explanation" in the surprisingly cathartic last scene, feels authentically random and true. He doesn't know. Though obviously a psychopath, the "adult" Kevin is complex and resists easy labelling, self-aware enough to have a nice, quotable rationale ready for media consumption. Miller is charismatic and beautiful but there is a darkness to his presence which works beautifully with the character. Swinton is even better, making a difficult character sympathetic and explicable throughout, her pain and confusion always evident.
But this is a directors film, and Ramsay, one of the most distinctive talents in modern cinema, is always in control, displaying her great eye and compositional sense (ably abetted by cinematographer Seamus McGarvey), drawing good work from her cast, precisely controlling the tempo and pacing of her narrative and editing, and, as she's done in each of her films, working a terrific soundtrack against her story and imagery. There are a couple of slight missteps - Swinton scrubbing the red paint from her house is a little too obvious a metaphor for my liking - but for the most part, We Need To Talk About Kevin is a gruelling, acute, hugely impressive piece of work from a truly exciting filmmaker.