The ‘lady has the spawn of Satan’ story line isn’t a very new one. This cautionary tale, especially in film, is always accompanied by a moral message of some sort. Whether it’s ‘never trust strangers with a smile’ (Rosemary’s Baby) or ‘don’t take a baby if you don’t know where it came from’ (The Omen), Hollywood has made it very clear that you have got to have done something wrong in order to deserve a diabolical child. But not until recently, it was Roman Polanski’s 1968 psychological-demoniac, art house-horror film (yes it’s a lot of things but that’s why it’s so good) Rosemary’s Baby that stood alone in this banal genre. Polanksi gave us an example of how ingenuity in the storytelling department and striking, but not particularly grotesque, visuals can terrify audiences in a new way. With that said, one could consider the creepy, dark humoured, highly stylized delivery in Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) the first film since Polanski’s to truly replicate this frightful finesse. Based on Lionell Shriver’s 2003 novel of the same title, Ramsay’s adaptation takes on the challenge of addressing a vast amount of issues: sociopathic behaviour, oedipal feelings, marriage problems, and disillusionment with the American dream. Successful in its risqué disjointed plot style, Kevin is easy to follow, terrifying to witness, but unfortunately anticlimactic in its conclusions.
Kevin is about Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton), a worn out woman who is clearly in psychological distress. As soon as Eva steps out of her house and we see its decaying white facade glistening with splashes of red paint, it’s obvious that Eva has others determined to remind her the nightmare she runs from. Through vivid sequences from her past, we see Eva’s son Kevin (Ezra Miller) displaying disturbing behaviour that gets progressively more unsettling as he goes from infancy to adolescence. Kevin works so well because Ramsay focuses less on shock value, and instead speaks with stark and surreal imagery. Eva is constantly accentuated with dark reds and even becomes somewhat of a Lady Macbeth constantly trying to wash the blood of her torment off her hands. In a lot of ways Kevin is the 2001: A Space Odyssey of ‘lady has the spawn of Satan’ films. The difference with Kevin is that it replaces 2001’s giant baby foetus of human optimism with a rotting maggot infested demon seed filled with hate and mistrust. Kevin shows he is capable of such harmful acts that his will becomes viscous and haunting, even for the viewer. The only flaw of Kevin is the build of Kevin’s sinister behaviour is ultimately a letdown, as the scheme of terror he enacts as his grand finale is predictable and unoriginal. Still, it is Swinton, her naive husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), and Miller’s convincing and passionate performances that allow Kevin to unnerve us with the most morose message of all: Satan or no Satan, some people are just born evil.