WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
I’m a little surprised at how many critics have been raving about Lynne Ramsay’s 2011 film We Need to Talk About Kevin. I was one who for a while was intrigued by it (and the fact that I missed it when it first came out) because of its grim topic of lone killers and the aftermath they leave. When I finally sat down to watch it, however, something about this movie, which in my opinion shouldn’t be on a bad movie article, didn’t resonate. Something was tonally, visually off from the get-go, and too much time was spent in framing Tilda Swinton (whom I normally love in anything she does, although she has appeared in a couple of clunkers like this year’s A Bigger Splash) in bold reds over and over and over again, and then having her act so arrogantly through the entire affair it was next to impossible to feel anything for her character.
For those who haven’t seen We Need to Talk About Kevin, this is the 2011 movie based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Lionel Shriver. The story depicts a mother, played by Swinton, coming to terms with the devastation that her son (played by Ezra Miller) has left behind following a school massacre. For the initial portion I was hooked, wanting to know more about what could have made this privileged child turn into such a murderous, soulless monster, but the problem lay basically in casting. Swinton, for all her visual presence, is completely wrong for the character of a mother unable to control her preternaturally psychopathic son. When you see her, you think, “Oh, please. One cold stare and she’s got this by the horns.” Nope. It doesn’t happen. It never happens. We see the son manifest symptoms of early rebellion that will manifest itself much later as an outcry of sheer violence. We see Swinton react . . . but not much. She alternates between looking caught between two emotions, deer in the headlights and deer wondering the make of the vehicle that just struck her. So out of touch if her character that we wonder if there will ever be a conversation that spells out the title of the movie. A caveat, and it’s not a spoiler: don’t wait for it. instead, watch for Gus van Sant’s excellent, devastating Elephant.
I can say that many affluent families that I was associated with in my childhood had this thing where no problems of any kind were discussed or mentioned or even referenced. It just didn’t happen. If there were any issues, those involved suffered in silence. In time they could let the bile out of the bag and make those affected go to therapy. Who cares? So in a way, the fact that this family, uber chic, living in a fabulous home filled with contemporary sterility, has no soul. The father? He’s nowhere to be found. John C Reilly seems to have checked out and left it all to chance. That leave the story nowhere to go but into the red. Now, my other contention is, and yes, this is a spoiler, arrows? Really?
Look, I get it. Sometimes you want to lessen the bloody impact of a reality all schools must face in the light of Columbine and all that follow, but to make a bow and arrow a part of a tragedy and not have anyone on board — not guards, security, anyone — tackle this crazy down and somehow subdue him? That’s the most egregious example of a plot hole if I’ve ever seen one. There is no way — nope, not a single one — that Kevin would have been able to inflict as much harm the way he did before a couple of school jocks would have taken his shit down, all the way down. We live in a reality of guns, and guns do inflict almost unbearable harm.
But . . . .this is an artistic movie, I guess, based on an actual novel, and where there is an audience, there will be sales, so those who bought it and read it believed it and stand by it. And that’s okay. I personally loved a couple of artistic aspects of We Need to Talk About Kevin but it was probably a fraction of a whole. That doesn’t save it from me giving it the axe.
I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THIS HOUSE
Oh, boy. Shirley Jackson must be thrashing in her grave right now. Here we have a movie that shamelessly rips off her narrative style down to details — the dry humor with a wink, the stoic omniscience of the lead — and makes no attempt to create something new with it. Osgood Parkins, its director, has taken the well-worn story of the governess and the old, dark house and given it a modernist, minimalist spin. You can start going down your checklist as I type this: old house? Check. Things that go creak in the dark? Of course. Things that move on their own? Yes. Something invisible that seems to want more than one is willing to give? Bingo.
If you can, check a little horror movie called Darling by Mickey Keating. That’s all I’ll say here, because I won’t spend more than I have to wondering what was it that made this little experiment of a horror movie suck so badly. When you have atmosphere and nothing else there is only so much you can do before one wonders when one can change the channel or switch to a better, more dramatic film. Mind you, I’m not above slow burns with a pay-off. Those are the best. Even something more commercial as Don’t Breathe by Fede Alvarez and produced by Sam Raimi has only two jumpscares that make total sense to the plot instead of being there to make you jump . . . but nothing else. This one, with its long, elaborate title, looks more like a movie filmed for video only — you can see right through its seams when the horror appears, and all you are left are with ominous external shots of the house the events purportedly take place in. That doesn’t make this even remotely good.
I do hope that Perkins will come up with something better. This is a first film and mistakes happen. Maybe I saw it wrong, but I’ve seen a lot of horror since I was a child and this one made me irritable. Even names like Paula Prentiss and Bob Balaban, stalwarts from the 70s, helped not an iota. What a total waste of time.