Familial devotion has seldom been so horrifically explored on the screen. What would we do in their shoes, if one of our offspring turned out to be a sadistic animal with the cunning to slaughter many and live to tell the tale to a ripe old age?
Fictional as it is (novel by Lionel Shriver, screenplay by Lynne Ramsay and Rory Kinnear), this daring study of the evil amongst us packs an especially potent punch thanks to all of the I’s that have created it and eyes that stare at us from the screen, silently reinforcing what has already occurred or unerringly forecasting the horrors to come.
Building on the strength of the non-linear depiction of events, director Ramsay steadily and oh-so-assuredly builds a cinematic canvas that allows Tilda Swinton to throw all caution to the wind and create one of the finest performances yet seen in 2011.
Being readily drenched from head to toe, inside and out at Spain’s infamous La Tomatina, immediately sets the no-holds-barred tone—thankfully played more for imagined atrocities than gruesome depiction of events—and pervading crimson hue as it morphs from hedonistic/ritual celebration to sticky, life-giving/losing blood whether from real life-death struggles or unrepentant, cowardly vandals’ red-letter wash of the house and car of the woman who spawned the monster.
From there, Swinton portrays Eva Khatchadourian with incredible grit and intestinal fortitude as the back-story of family gradually fills in the missing links before the day of reckoning that is not shied away from almost with the first set of flashbacks.
One early example of Ramsay’s knowing technique is gluing together a new inmate’s scream with Eva’s long-past desperate cries at childbirth then her newborn’s colic that seems only to abate when dad (John C. Reilly showing another side to his skill as a fully nuanced actor) glowingly cradles his firstborn. All three Kevins produce first-rate work. Kudos to Billy Hopkins as this ungodly trio looks close enough to convince any but the pickiest viewer and there are enough visual similarities with his screen mom to pass anyone’s DNA test. Rock Duer sets the pace as the late-to-speak, early-to-hate toddler, shit-on-demand-why-is-he-still-in-diapers antics magically sets the scene for the first of many eye pairings (staring straight ahead in the car after an unfortunate “accident” seals Eva’s coming fate even as the first solo toilet flush assures dad’s love and pride). Jasper Newell makes for a cute Robin Hood as he plays with his first plastic set of bows and purposely errant arrows. As Kevin’s toys morph into the real thing, Ezra Miller steps into the part—soon showing his savvy as the master of parent manipulation. Perhaps the shot of the film comes when his usual bull’s eye (thanks to Seamus McGarvey’s ever-creative cinematography and Joe Bini’s miraculous edits) is transformed, becoming the young sportsman’s cornea and pupil. There’s one picture that’s worth far more than 1,000 words.
As the film progresses, Eva’s predicament of mothering a foul-mouth, bully and brute takes some interesting turns. Being smacked on the sidewalk by a victim’s mother despoils the notion of any sort of forgiveness backed up by “you can’t choose your relatives.” More than a few times (notably after the mother-son dinner that turns into the Interview with the Vampire and the decided lack of support from her husband: “Maybe you should see someone”—he only witnesses Kevin’s good side) we wonder why the travel-mad Eva just doesn’t buy a one-way ticket to anywhere and disappear.
After a musical interjection (“I’m Nobody’s Child”—one of many songs that uses old styles to reinforce the current dilemma) and still another eye sharing of the screen as the “never happy” Kevin slowly turns to face his stoic-beyond-belief mom, the film ends with a knockout punch that puts all of what came before it in grim perspective.
Those with the temerity to view this production will sigh in relief when the “all characters are fictional” disclaimer rolls by during the credits, but simultaneously begin to have a different understanding when our next teen murderer vents his/her spleen on innocent bystanders, revelling in the fact that he or she will lead the six o’clock news. JWR