Whew! This is a heavy film.
It would be scary under any circumstances simply because of the skill of the actors.
It is especially chilling when you consider the film (and the novel on which it is based) have been drawn from real life events.
The marvelous Tilda Swinton submerges herself in the role of Eve Khatchadourian, an American upper middle class mom with a very troubled son.
The viewer watches with a growing sense of unease as Kevin (played as a toddler by Rock Duer and from 6-8 years old by Jasper Newell) gradually morphs into a sullen teenager (portrayed by Ezra Miller).
Dad, Franklin (played with bland affability by the great character actor, John C. Reilly) doesn’t want to deal with the situation and passes off Kevin’s aberrant behaviour as a “boys will be boys” phase he will eventually outgrow.
Mom knows there is something seriously wrong with her son but she doesn’t know how to deal with it.
It is only a matter of time before Kevin’s deep-seated resentment finds expression in a horrifying act of rage.
Right from the start director Lynne Ramsay (who co-wrote the screenplay with Rory Kinnear) establishes an unsettling air of menace as we glimpse an angelic little girl humming happily at a kitchen table. A few moments later we see she is missing an eye. How did that happen?
Glimpses of a crime scene flash through Eva’s mind. It is a tribute to Ramsay’s subtlety and skill as a director that images from the event haunt the viewer just as they haunt Eva’s memories of a certain fateful night.
In a DVD extra, the author of the book, Lionel Shriver (who turns out to be an attractive American woman) tells an interviewer she was motivated to write the novel after reading about U.S. high school shootings that have taken place in recent years. (According to wikipedia.com she was born Margaret Ann Shriver. At age 15, she changed her name to Lionel because she did not like the name she had been given, and as a tomboy felt that a conventionally male name fitted her better.)
Ironically, Ms. Shriver’s novel is relatively unknown in her home country while becoming a bestseller in the UK (600,000 copies and counting.)
Needless to say, all three of the young actors portraying Kevin at various stages of his life could have a future in horror films if they choose although no one in this trio needs CGI-generated spooks to chill your flesh.
Indeed, what makes this film especially creepy is that there is no supernatural element in the script.
Miller, in particular, has a dark gaze and a cruel twist to his mouth that makes his smile especially sinister.
And yet, in a DVD extra, he appears as a normal, smiling young professional actor with an intuitive sense of what makes his character tick.
In fact, I would recommend interested parties rent or buy the DVD since the bonus features helped this viewer understand this well acted, written and directed film much better (after the initial shock had worn off, that is.)
How responsible are parents when their offspring commit unspeakable acts of violence ? The film revives the old nature vs. nurture debate.
Among other things, I learned that a) Ms. Swinton is absolutely fearless when she commits to a character b) young Mr. Miller is definitely a talent to be watched and c) I would make a lousy parent.