Despite a nine year departure from directing and the added challenge of translating a highly provocative and daring source material, Lynne Ramsay has crafted a piece so isolated and claustrophobic it manages to boil the industrial wasteland of Eraserhead down into a dysfunctional family unit. As with her previous work it arrives fresh from Cannes with critical acclaim and, through daring to sidestep the written-letter style of its inspiration, will surely go down as one of the films of the year with a mesmerising central performance.
What is salvaged from the novel stylistically is the temporal distinction, which is crucial in maintaining the mood throughout the narrative. We observe a woman as scenes jump back and forth between the two most pivotal roles of her motherhood; the coming together of her family and the raising of her children, notably the titular Kevin, and reconciliation with herself after a terrible, life-changing incident has occurred. We begin with the mother, Eva (Tilda Swinton), dreaming of idyllic times in the La Tomatina and are slowly pulled into something resembling a bad dream through some fantastically lucid editing, such that even a slow drive down a street on Halloween becomes truly haunting.
At the heart of the film lies the relationship between mother and son, the scenes that set the basis for Kevin’s chilling actions in adolescence. Although criticisms can be levelled towards the portrayal of a younger Kevin, where certain scenes seemingly unfold as pastiches of the hell-child Damien, Ezra Miller is purely chilling as his teenage counterpart. Eva’s ambivalence towards parenthood is now realised as a game, where the motions of family life are undertaken artificially and mutual hatred flourishes. Although John C. Reilly’s role as the father is inspired, his ignorance of Kevin’s actions fuelling antagonism, Swinton is exceptional. She ultimately perpetuates the question that grips you: where does the responsibility lie? It is a case of nature versus nurture, where it is unclear if Kevin’s sociopathic tendencies were innate or born within Eva’s inefficiencies in raising him. This unknowing empowers the film, elevating a brutal character study into a truly chilling piece.
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. Reilly