Screen Gems

We need to talk about Tilda Swinton & Ezra Miller

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.

The Blood Curdling: We Need to Talk About Kevin

For an exercise in suspense and terror that plays even more relevant now than when it premiered in 2011, look no further than We Need to Talk About Kevin, director Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel.

The film follows an embattled mother named Eva (Tilda Swinton) who sacrificed her jet-setting career to become a mother, and who has hated it ever since. That owes a lot to her son Kevin (Ezra Miller), a difficult child to say the least. As the film opens, Eva goes to visit Kevin in prison, and recalls the frightening path that led them there: Kevin behaved evil from birth, intent on torturing his mother with his screams, toilet training (or lack thereof), and his affection for his dad, Franklin (John C. Riley)…which Kevin seemed to only show as a way of making Eva jealous. The birth of a second child, Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich) only exacerbates the tension. When Eva and Franklin begin to have marital problems, Eva begins to suspect Kevin is a psychopath, intent on ruining her life at all costs.

Or so it seems. We Need to Talk About Kevin toys with its audience by making it question the reliability of its narrator. Was Eva the perfect mom she remembers? Was Kevin really a vindictive sadist, even as a baby? Is that even possible? Is he a psychopath? Or does he just have severe mommy issues? Director Ramsay drops hints here and there and directs Swinton and Miller in such a way that both characters seem to uncoil as the movie goes on. Audiences can read their performances in more than one way depending on how or if they notice the film’s other clues.

That owes too to the incredible work by Swinton and, in particular, by Miller. His performance here ranks among his career-best in the way he somehow suggests a hollow-hearted killer and a wounded, love-starved child at the same time. The ever-fearless Swinton matches him every step of the way with her intensity, sorrow, and just maybe her own sinister motives.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a violent, tense psychological thriller that also plays like a puzzle. What we see on the screen is horrifying enough. The real story, as the film hints, might be even scarier. Watch it and decide: who is the real villain here?

Streams on Tubi, Amazon, VUDU, YouTube & Hulu.