Star rating – 9/10
If you’ve read the bestselling novel by Lionel Shriver, then you’ll know this is not exactly a feel good tale. It is harrowing, uncomfortable, gripping and pain filled. I know that doesn’t sound like the best of recommendations, but this really is a superb film from director Lynne Ramsey, who has captured the menace and visceral tone of the book perfectly.
And yes Tilda Swinton deserves all the plaudits that she will no doubt get for this tremendously difficult role. Swinton is the most chameleon- like of actors, switching seamlessly without effort from sexy and sophisticated in ‘I Am Love’; to the archetypal wicked queen of Narnia, to this surely her greatest challenge yet. She plays Eva the mother of Kevin, who seems to have been fairly happy and carefree before she had him, but then fails to bond with him as a baby. From then on their relationship is strained to say the least, with each day being a constant battle of wills.
It is a bit of a nature, nurture debate, with no clear answer being given to the obvious and disturbing question of whether it was something in Kevin which made him unlovable in his mother’s eyes, or if her lack of affection caused his dysfunctional behaviour. The tragedy is played out here in a non sequential way, with Eva’s present tormented, lonely and wretched life interspersed with flashbacks to days with her family. She spends a large proportion of the film with her hands covered in red paint as she desperately tries to scrape it from her house and car after various acts of hatred are performed by the locals, obviously not overjoyed at her presence in the neighbourhood.
In the book the horror of what Kevin has done is not revealed until near the end, but with the story having been read by so many, the film does not rely on that element of surprise to shock and draw its audience in. It is pretty obvious from the off that there has been some sort of Columbine style massacre at Kevin’s school.
And although most of the headlines will be about Swinton’s mesmerising performance, some lime light must also be reserved for the amazing and horrific portrayal of the eldest Kevin by Ezra Miller. His enactment of evil is truly disturbing. He torments his mother and switches to normal more whenever his father (John C Reilly) appears in the room. He is horrible to his beautiful little sister, and all I will say is that the moment she gets a guinea pig for Christmas you just know that things will not go well. And I am amazed at how the younger actors who played Kevin, some just toddlers, were got to stare with quite so much malice at their mother.
This is not an easy film to sit through, but it does stay with you for a long time after the credits role. It is a masterpiece and a great adaptation of an equally great but deeply unsettling book.