We need to talk about Kevin. The kid’s practically demonic in his pursuit to drive his mother nuts, sickly terrorizing Eva and the family – without giving too much away, he makes a mess of the house and sucks up to his father to spite her – with a smirk that’s eerily devilish, like some demon child. Seriously, all that’s missing is the corn.
The crazy-kid film has been done to death (see: “The Bad Seed,” “Children of the Corn,” “The Good Son”), but never so terrifyingly true-to-life as in “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” a consuming cautionary tale for anyone who ever wanted children. Tilda Swinton, the androgynous drama-mama favorite, spellbinds as the mother to the titular evil son that could very well be the devil incarnate: he shits his pants on purpose, takes the smaller-sibling razzing too far and, as the film drops hints to the gut-punching climax, does something horrifically sick. This gritty stomach-turner is very real, and very good.
We know something’s up early on, when Eva is approached by suburban moms on the street, where one slaps her dead in the face. The motive is unclear (though the over-symbolized color red – danger, danger! – is a pretty clear indication), but as the films progresses it’s obvious who the culprit is: Kevin. In seesawing scenes, we learn that Eva hooked up with Franklin (John C. Reilly), now her husband, and went ahead with an unplanned pregnancy. When the baby’s born, it’s clear she’s not fit to raise him. She pushes a stroller in front of a noisy construction site to drown out his wailing. Screaming problem fixed.
Kevin grows up, but he doesn’t grow out of his spiteful, me-against-mom ways. And despite her efforts – a nice dinner, some mini-golf – there’s no getting through to what he’s become as a teenager, essentially a sociopath. It’s truly awful watching Kevin make Eva’s life hell, and even though he’s hardly empathetic, the question still looms: Nature or nurture? Maybe he’s a result of Eva’s poor parenting. Or maybe he was just, well, born that way.
Ezra Miller, who played a gay teen in 2010’s “Every Day,” is fully dedicated to Kevin’s craziness; pure evil disguised as emo boi in tummy-exposing Ts. Everything he says is dripping with disdain and evil-spirited hatred – toward his mother, toward his family, toward the world. No wonder his real-life mom broke down at the premiere.
Swinton, per usual, wears the role like that spunky pompadour of hers – extremely well, and with satisfying ease. She slips right into Eva’s lifeless stare as if it were her own, especially in the film’s final scene shocker that rips out the floor from under your feet.