Actually, we really DON'T need to talk about him. But as long as I'm here, and since I actually sat through this thing (I seriously considered walking out, but if you think it's because I couldn't handle the intensity, read on)...
So, we've got ourselves an acclaimed "arthouse" film, and the first thing everybody's going to tell you is that Tilda Swinton delivers a powerful performance. Fair enough--that she does. You probably already know that she plays a mother trying against all odds to go on with her life after her teenage son has "done something horrible." Oh, let's stop beating around the bush. He pulled a Columbine-type massacre at his high school. It's not a spoiler.
The potential for a truly great movie following a devastated woman trying to come to grips with the shambles of her life is there. That's the movie this needed to be. When we're following Swinton during the present-day sequences as she tries to avoid angry neighbors, mind her own business at her job (she used to be a famous international adventurer, but now she's reduced to clerk-work at a travel agency) and deal with the one guy who seems to be reaching out to her, then we've got the searing drama and the award-caliber performance we've been promised. Tilda Swinton would still be the one to star in this movie, but I'm by no means convinced that director Lynne Ramsay could have pulled it off.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the film is devoted to flashbacks detailing the pure hell dealt out to Mommy by nasty little Kevin from his very infancy--and, of course, how "dopey dad" John C. Reilly never acknowledges anything out of the ordinary.
I have no idea how this played out in the well-received novel. It may very well be a compelling read. But in Ramsay's hands, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN is jaw-droppingly obvious, heavy-handed and infuriatingly pretentious. Perhaps if the film had even tried to suggest what made Kevin tick, we might have had something, but what we get here is "There isn't any point. That's the point." Yes. Kevin really says this. No medical condition, no pattern of abuse (oh, yes, there's the crucial moment where Mom loses her temper with severe consequences, but that's something for Kevin to twist to his psychological advantage, not something that induces deadly, repressed trauma), no indication of bullying (no depiction of his high school life whatsoever, in fact). No, what pushes this into "horror" territory is the highly unoriginal observation that Kevin is just... plain... EVIL. OOOOOOOHHHHHH!!!
Of course we cringe when Kevin gets an unwanted baby sister. They already showed her wearing an eyepatch at the beginning of the film. And oh, my, what do you think might happen when Sis gets a cute little guinea pig for Christmas? None of this is graphically shown (not that I'd want it to be, don't get me wrong)... it's all buildup for the inevitable "big event" (and I think I just might have figured it out when Kevin displayed uncanny expertise with his bow and arrow set... and when the camera went straight for his eyes so we could see the target bullseyes reflected directly into his pupils... I wish I were making this up)...
Ramsay is that ham-fistedly obvious from beginning to end. We open with what must be Swinton's last truly happy moment on earth--she's revelling in the Spanish "tomatillo" festival (the annual village-wide tomato fight), so she's already completely soaked in red the first time we see her. And while there's very little actual gore in the film (it's supposed to "count" big time when it happens), there's no shortage of red paint, oozing blobs of strawberry jam, crunched-up piles of Fruity Pebbles... oh, and let's not forget my very first "uh-oh" moment in the supermarket--when Swinton tries to hide from a potentially hostile customer, ducks around a corner and is then seen framed by shelf after ridiculously overstocked shelf of... you guessed it... tomato soup.
This is nothing but an exploitation film that thinks it's bigger than itself because it dares to address "real life" horror and tragedy. Perhaps you think THE BAD SEED is too campy. Perhaps you think BLOODY BIRTHDAY is too cheesy. Perhaps ORPHAN was actually playing games with you. You'll have a harder time trying to dismiss JOSHUA, as I see it. But in any case, they're ALL better than THIS film, and I roll my eyes in despair at the critics who act like it actually has something important to say, quality acting notwithstanding.
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