Arch Madness: SFF Journal, Entry Seven
Published on November 3rd, 2011 | by Charles H. Meyer0
We need to talk about Ezra Miller, an actor who is so scary that it’s not even funny–although his performance as a natural born psychopath in Lynne Ramsay’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin” might cause you to twitch about nervously in painful hiccups of convulsive laughter–the kind normally reserved for events like fatal car crashes and family funerals–laughter, for sure, but no, not the joyous kind. He might even make you cry, but you won’t cry tears of joy; you’ll howl for days on end like baby Kevin does as if to deliberately torture his poor mother. Yes, Ezra Miller is that good. He’s Jack-Nicholson-in-”The Shining” good, maybe even better.
As for Ramsay, who has previously directed two features, “Ratcatcher” (1999) and “Morvern Callar” (2002), both highly acclaimed, she’s better now than ever. In making this new film, her first in nine years (!), she has shown herself to be an auteur of the highest caliber. With “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” she has given us the finest, most disturbing psychological horror film of 2011. (And don’t you dare call it a thriller, which would be an entirely inappropriate euphemism in this case. “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is definitely not a genre film, but that doesn’t make the term horror any less apt a descriptor.)
Earlier bad seed psychodramas “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Exorcist” and “The Omen” are all quaint little amusements in comparison to “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” because in each of those earlier films–all based on Christian conceptions of the Devil–Jesus Christ is always implicitly on hand to save the day even if the plot doesn’t give Him any screen time. Not so in “Kevin,” a film that is decidedly secular, devoid of any and all mysticism, whether redemptive, damning, or otherwise. This film does not offer comforting warmth of any kind to bundle us up protectively against the chills it persistently inflicts on us by causing us to identify constantly with Tilda Swinton’s pathetically doomed, deathly dour, skeletal Eva (the only Biblical reference I could detect, although the film works so much better if we permit our reception of it to avoid religion entirely). Even a rare moment of kindness, such as a friendly hello addressed to Eva by a handsome, wheelchair-bound young man, is rendered stingingly sad when we are made to realize that his handicapped condition is the result of his attempted murder by Eva’s son. And the scariest thing about this film might be the realization that Kevin (who could make Anthony Hopkins in “Silence of the Lambs” scream like a helpless baby for his mommy), having been tried and convicted as a minor, stands a frighteningly good chance of being released from his cage not long after the credits roll.
I should not talk too much more about “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” I went into the film willfully ignorant of what lay in store for me, and you should go into it that way, too. I will tell you that its cinematography is stunning; it’s the most visually interesting new film that I’ve seen so far at this year’s Savannah Film Festival. Its sound is stunning, too. I’m a really jumpy guy, a trait that has always physically enhanced my experiences of horror films. And although Ramsay’s film is a psychological horror film, it does scare us with some quite visceral visual and auditory shocks. Yet these are not of the usual horror film variety (like I said, this is not a genre film) but instead are inventive and evocative percussive effects and memorable (by which I mean “singed-on-the-back-of-your-retina”) visual metaphors that will make you squirm in your seat and whimper meekly, “Make it stop. Make it stop.”