Steven Sheehan’s review published on Letterboxd:
This is a book that was being read on every platform, train and waiting room in the early 00’s, in particular it seemed to be very popular with women and in my ignorance I decided that it would be of absolutely no interest to me. A decade later, after collecting coveted industry prizes and over a million sales of the book, the film adaptation continued in a similar vein with positive reviews following its release.
Seeing Tilda Swinton in any film is always a pleasure, one of the most gifted actresses out there who thankfully continues to stay away from the obvious and pick and chose her roles very carefully. As usual she puts in a strong, believable performance, opposite John C. Reilly (Franklin, her husband) as the parents of Kevin, played throughout his growing years by three actors, with Ezra Miller taking on the later chilling teenage years.
The story is told in flashback form cutting across Eva (Swinton) and Franklin’s honeymoon period and the troubled raising of their first child Kevin. The free spirited couple are shaken back into the real world when Eva is told she is pregnant, a role she is reluctant to take on whilst for husband Franklin it can’t seem to come soon enough. At first we are left intrigued as to why Eva is now living alone in a new house splattered with red paint, seemingly treated with contempt by everyone in the local community and drowning herself amongst pills and red wine. As the flashbacks increase, then the present day situation becomes far less of a mystery.
She falls into post natal depression failing to bond with her child and forcing her bitterness of a lifestyle lost onto the boy. Their relationship never fully forms meaning their dislike of each other increases over the years, throwing the viewer’s empathy from one side to the other challenging us as to where Kevin’s seed of anger was born, through either nature or nurture. In doing so, you leave the film on one side of the fence or the other, regardless of Kevin’s ultimate act that creates the entire context as it touches on uncomfortable truths all parents keep to themselves.
Ezra Miller is impressive as the older Kevin, showing his ice cool menace and surprising vulnerability toward the end when faced with a transfer to the adult prison. Swinton looks almost shell shocked for most of the film, her eyes glassed over to the outside world and vacant to the trauma she is now exposed to and the broken family left strewn across her memory. The use of the colour red is also interesting, with every frame holding a blood coloured object giving an indication of the anger and violence bubbling underneath the family’s surface.
You will more than likely know where the film is heading and what horrendous crime is around the corner so British director Lynne Ramsay deserves praise for skilfully maintaining the tension and interest. Like many of the best psychological films, it hints at the evil without having to display it in graphic terms and in doing so it formulates a far more worrying picture of what the truth may actually be.