Being a parent is terrifying, but movies rarely acknowledge that fact, or if they do, it’s in a joking, “look at how much babies poop” kind of way. One of the most fascinating things about Lynne Ramsay’s brilliant and unrelentingly bleak drama We Need to Talk About Kevin is its unflinching look at the horrors of motherhood, how some people have children only to discover that it’s the most unpleasant experience of their lives, and one that can never be taken back, even under the most extreme circumstances.
The circumstances for Eva (Tilda Swinton) are certainly extreme, but even before they get to the level of murder, Eva is clearly repulsed by her sullen, vindictive child, who hates his mother with an irrational fury seemingly from the moment he’s born. Ramsay’s woozy, impressionistic film jumps around in time, starting with Eva in the aftermath of a horrific tragedy, which we eventually learn is a school shooting perpetrated by her teenage son Kevin (Ezra Miller).
This isn’t a movie about the social problem of school shootings, though; Kevin isn’t a bullied teen lashing out at his tormentors, and he is in no way a sympathetic figure. At its heart, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a horror movie about discovering that someone you love unconditionally is also unconditionally evil, and Swinton does an amazing job of depicting Eva’s mix of repulsion and neediness every time she looks at Kevin. He’s undoubtedly a monster, and she’ll never be able to escape being his mother.