Watching We Need to Talk About Kevin is akin to watching a series of Francis Bacon paintings in motion – the one(s) in particular that sprang to mind were the triptych, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944): maligned figures on a splash of turbulent red, each more grotesque than the last. Ramsay makes equal use of the colour red that manages to be both symbolic and unsettling, without straying into heavy-handedness. Red becomes a spectre, haunting particular moments of Eva’s (Tilda Swinton) life, as a reminder of the past and a veritable omen of the future. Red: the colour of love, and the colour of rage, both of which emerge as prominent themes; “there will be blood”, so to speak. Ramsay sways us between dreamlike surrealism and domestic horror that is entirely untarnished by traditional ‘supernatural’ gimmick. The horror of Kevin is that it is real, and is played out with the gravitas of the best of the Greek tragedies.

The greatest strength of the film is its moral ambiguity. Unsettling, yes; cold, yes; but nothing is clear-cut. The characters are not meant to be likeable, nor sympathetic, and it is a mistake to engage in either. Without falling into the perils of tediously explicating emotional dilemmas,  the chameleonic Tilda Swinton oscillates masterfully between the narratives, as a mother struggling to understand her son, and a mother wracked with guilt by proxy, by mere facial expression alone. Her interactions with Kevin at different ages (particularly the younger one) are wrought with a sort of tension that cannot be fabricated, and instill a foreboding anticipation of what happens next. Brilliantly, the film pulls no punches – we know what is going to happen, and the twisting of your intestines is a testament to how anticipated knowledge does nothing to ease the actual fact that it happens.

I’ve read speculation on the motivation behind Kevin’s actions, and why he specifically chose to antagonise his mother. The beauty of this film, as opposed to the hackneyed comparisons to The Omen, Bad Seed, and Rosemary’s Baby, is that we don’t understand why – and we aren’t intended to. In what I am certain Robert Hare would salivate to get his hands on, Kevin is an unrepentant psychopath of the purest kind, and Ramsay does away with softening the character with underlying emotional complexities. The sparring between Kevin and Eva takes on a ferocious intensity and perversity reminiscent of Caligula or I, Claudius, made more so because they both understand each other perfectly. It is like watching a rat and snake with baited breath to see who strikes first.

A comment on the folly of unconditional love? An ironic cautionary tale? Both, perhaps, and more. It is a frustrating, provocative, and appropriately unsatisfying examination of a peculiar and devastating situation, and executed with Bacon-like precision from Ramsay: emotional and aesthetic incongruity, and yet you can’t seem to look away.

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