March 9, 2012 at 10:07 am

Review: Bad seed tale 'Kevin' owes its success to Tilda Swinton

Tilda Swinton stars in “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” a film about a mother’s struggle to handle her evil son. (Oscilloscope Pictures)

Many people will come away from "We Need to Talk About Kevin" too stunned to talk about Kevin, or much else either.

Others may find themselves unable to shut up about the film. About Tilda Swinton's amazing performance — way too risky for mere Oscar gold — or the film's nature/nurture parenting arguments, or just on the sheer horribleness that is Kevin himself.

It couldn't happen, could it? It isn't happening is it?

Director Lynne Ramsay, writing with Rory Kinnear, has come up with the ultimate bad seed story here.

It's a tale of a child who from birth is spiteful, mean, cruel and potentially murderous.

The boy is born to a normal enough Mom, Eva (Swinton), a travel writer who finds herself from infancy tied to the manipulations of her son, who handles his enabling father (John C. Reilly) like so much putty.

Kevin refuses to be potty-trained marching around defiantly in diapers until he's six. When a younger sister is born he — literally — tortures her. Pets go missing. Kevin never accepts blame for anything, and directly taunts his mother with his own madness.

Director Ramsay makes Kevin's impact all the more felt by coming at it from all angles. In flashbacks and forwards we see Eva rebuilding her life, hated by neighbors, after Kevin (Ezra Miller, grown) has gone on a school shooting rampage — it happens early, though not graphically — in the film, even as we see her struggle to reason with this devil of a child and her husband while protecting her younger daughter.

Swinton's cracked porcelain performance — at one point she takes the infant Kevin to a site filled with jackhammers just to drown out the sound of his screams — is the film's essence. The question isn't whether such a monster could exist?

The question is, what if he were your son?

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