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Friday, February 3, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Limited Release Date: 12-9-2011)

        Everybody loves a good parody. It's the joy of seeing something with a distinct, tried-and-true formula, a rhetoric that has taken itself far too seriously, viewed through a fun-house mirror. From Mel Brooks on down to the Scary Movie franchise, coaxing laughs out of observing genre-based tics is nothing new to the world of cinema. We Need to Talk About Kevin is not a parody; In fact, it's the exact opposite, but in some strange, twisted way, it's undoubtably a part of the same linage.

        Writer/Director Lynne Ramsay's film is told from the perspective of Eva (Tilda Swinton), a woman whose past is initially vague and/or concealed from the audience, hiding secret trauma behind weary eyes. She lives alone in a shack of a house, appears to be estranged from her family, and is treated with venom by a number of the suburban town's populace. And then there's the issue of Kevin. Eva's relationship with her first son is a messy one, relayed in flashbacks through manipulations and subtle violences. He's clearly a smart boy, even conniving in some ways, and while Eva's parenting decisions could often be questioned, her offspring gives off an undeniable sense of danger, even if her oblivious husband (John C. Reilly) can't be bothered to notice. When Eva hurts Kevin, physically or emotionally, it appears to be on accident. The same cannot be said the other way around.

        Recognize these trappings? They're the basis of one, "Bad Seed," horror flick after another, from last year's Insidious, to The Omen, all the way down to, well, The Bad Seed. But instead of adding a wink-wink, nudge-nudge sensibility to the whole thing, Ramsay reassesses it in her own way, taking the whole thing deadly seriously, examining the effects and aftermath of raising what could readily be seen as an evil human being. Joe Bini's editing does a lot of the heavy lifting, moving gracefully between present and past, deftly showing the way in which Eva looks to fleeting specks of memory for an explanation as to how it all went so horribly wrong. Swinton is marvelous in the role, on screen almost every moment, her pain and self-loathing readily apparent under a thin veneer of, 'Never Say Die,' attitude. Simply put, Ramsay's film is a horror film, just like its forbearers, but where those films prompted screams out of knee-jeck reactions, Kevin's terrors are all in implication, and the settle down deeply into the marrow of your bones. The movie occasionally over-reaches, which is kind of to be expected with this material, but its moments that work linger in your head for days, sending shivers down your spine long after the credits have rolled.

Grade: B+

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