Saw it last night. This is Lynne (Ratcatcher) Ramsey’s film of a novel about juvenile psychotic killer and his family. Front and center is Tilda (who as usual with little indies like this co-produced) as Mom, the ever-busy John C. Reilly as Dad, with deadly-cute Ezra Miller as Kevin. The story is told in a somewhat convoluted fashion the better to keep the revelation of Kevin’s most horrific crime (which follows a Columbine-like massacre he undertakes) until the last act. As whole it deals with how ordinary people can overlook/overcompensate for and most important of all repress what’s staring them right in the face. As a baby the kid screams constantly around Mom but is silent around Dad. Incredible problems with toilet training persist for years — with him wearing diapers (very good actor as the very young Kevin) and purposely shitting in them so Mom has to change him. They have another child — a daughter — who’s quite nice. So you can imagine how Kevin feels about her. Tilda has never looked more wasted and haunted than she does here. Beautifully done but so alienatingly horrific I can’t imagine publicizing it as anything other than “The Feel-Bad Movie of The Year!”
How would you say it ranks 1-10 in terms of “realistic portrayal of a serial killer” where 1 is Natural Born Killers and 10 is Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer ?
“The Feel-Bad Movie of The Year!”
So, uh, you are recommending it then?
It’s very diffewrent from the films you mention, Polarisdib, and I would reccomend it very cautiously to those who know what they’re getting into in seeing it. it’s not at all pleasant.
Seems from the trailer to be a bit of departure, stylistically, for Ramsey.
As long as it’s better than Beautiful Boy, I’m down.
With Ezra Miller getting roles in bigger films (City Island, We Need To Talk About Kevin), I hope more people seek out Afterschool.
The Antonio Campos film? Didn’t much care for that one. The sex scene was pretty great, how awkward and virginal and messy it was (and no, that does not imply graphic, pervs), but overall the movie wore its point on its sleeve and didn’t explore itself any further.
Afterschool is not a great film (sort of a slog to get through) but I enjoyed it’s uniqueness. Like a poor man’s Haneke for the kiddies.
I was going to mention the Haneke comparison but I referenced the DVD I have (yes, have—it was given to me for free) and a Haneke comparison (with Gus Van Sant as well) is on the front cover. So I figured I’d let the issue lie!
The kid did okay, though. I don’t know, I think I’ll have to check Kevin out since the mix of talents is intriguing all around.
I’m worried about the “realistic portrayal” Polarisdib mentioned, cause it looks as if Kevin is being satanized in an almost cartoonish way. Is there any moment in the film where he is portayed as a “normal” teenager as in: they can be good sometimes too?
It’s a lot closer to Haneke than Gus.
Well the thing is, the reason why I asked about the realistic portrayal is basically because I enjoy movies that have more honest, realistic portrayals of serial killers—the ones where they aren’t movie stars, and aren’t treated as such. These movies are far and few between.
If Kevin isn’t really “like” either ends of the spectrum I mentioned, if it’s not really about the portrayal of the serial killer, that is fine. I’m still interested. I’d just get myself to a showing with a bit more alacrity if I had more fuel for my “Actually from what I’ve read and understood serial killers are more like THIS and less like THAT” fire. But now I’m getting that that’s really outside the point of the movie, so I don’t think my question matters anymore.
Well Kevin is not a serial killer. He’s a psychotic who explodes into murderous rage. As to how “realsitic” it is the major point of focus is Kevin’s mohter and how she’s dealing with the tragedy and its wake.
So you’re getting “Kevin” from the mother’s POV, and therefore, I would assume you’re not getting a “realistic” portrait of him (i.e. you’re not viewing him from an objective, third party perspective).
It was very unsettling to watch – almost Haneke unsettling – but it affected me more than anything else. My #1 for 2011 so far. Ezra and Tilda are incredible – Tilda is 51!! Ramsay’s achievement is incredible. I thought it was a bravura auteur exercise. Took me a while to realize how purely allegorical it all was, but I think that’s great. Yes, though, truly horrific. And possibly just a bit too long… I don’t know if we needed quite so many pre-teen instances of Damien-like malevolence to get the point. I didn’t, anyway. Nitpicky things like that are why I won’t give it a 5 – that and the whole focus on utter negativity. I had to choose whether or not to prefer this or Tree of Life for 2011. Polar opposites, those… I chose this. The hype destroyed ToL (and the ending didn’t help).
I understand Polarisdib, you were being more specific about the serial killer subject. But my concern is still with the realistic aspect, or now the “realistic portrayal of a psychotic teen” then, maybe not in terms of honesty cause i do understand the film is coming from a different place in its mise en scene or stylistic approach, but in terms of multidimensional portrayal. And what a better place to do that from than from the POV of a mother, and its precisely because it’s subjective from a mother we can get various aspects of this kid. Teen killer from mother’s POV can’t never be simple, it has the potential to be utterly chaotic, wich is a good thing. I know it’s not going to be pretty but i just hate to see the movie going in one simple direction, that the kid is a monster, always been and his mother pretty much hates him. I hope i’m not looking for ambiguity in the wrong place, maybe I am.
I guess i’m just more interested in Killers that don’t really look like such.
Actually the mother doesn’t hate him. That’s her tragedy. From biurth he gives her reason after reason to reject him, and she never does. This doesn’t mean she ‘supports him." She’s totaly mystified by his behavior and not a little frightened of him —for reasons the film makes obvious in its last third.
As for how “realistic” it is, what does that term mean in this context? The story is told from the mother’s POV, therefore there’s a large degree of subjectivity. But that doesn’t render the story or the chatacters ’unbelievable."
If we’re lucky most of us have never crossed paths with someone like Kevin in our lives. But that doesn’t mean we can’t recognize what we see on screen in this film as “true to life” at one level or another.
“She’s totaly mystified by his behavior and not a little frightened of him” — This sounds very good David, i like this a lot.
My concern for the so called “realism” has to do with the nature of Kevin and the possible lack of ambivalence. And things like “pre-teen instances of Damien-like malevolence” don’t sound very promising.
I still have high hopes for this.
I definitely hope this one comes to a theater around me so I don’t have to wait for Netflix.
Looking forward to this film.
I wish this thread was titled “We Need to Talk About We Need to Talk About Kevin.”
“I definitely hope this one comes to a theater around me”
According to Oscilloscope (the US distributor), the general theatrical release date is 12/02/11.
Well evoling “Damien” and hooror films in general is a mistake. For the hoorros on view here are quite real . More important Ramsey hasn’t designed the film as a thriller at all. It’s a serious dramaabout a woman trying to cope with an impossiblyhorrible situation.
Hey, I got to see this last night at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival!
I liked it a lot, I found it chilling and disturbing, but I had a few problems with it. I’m about to go out and about now but when I get back I’ll discuss in greater detail.
It got general release in the UK on Friday, and I got to see it yesterday.
My personal feeling is that this is a really, really good film, but there was something that just didn’t work for me, and I cant put my finger on it. The performances are fantastic, by everyone. The scenes specifically with the Mother and young Kevin are fantastic. Ramsey does a fantastic job, her direction is nearly always great. The story itself is very interesting, and I really enjoyed how rather than focusing on the child, it looks at the Mother, and how she feels pre and post the films climax.
But, like I said, I just wasn’t completely hooked on it, it didn’t come near to blowing me away like a number of films have this year. Despite this, it is still among my top 15 (currently) films this year, and I personally feel this has been a pretty strong year. Even the fact that this film won nothing at Cannes, speaks for how strong Cannes itself was this year.
I would like to see someone who didn’t enjoy it, and what their criticisms are.
When I asked David Ehrenstein about “realistic portrayal of serial killer” I should have asked more what I meant and what word I had forgotten, “realistic portrayal of sociopath”, which is more accurate to what the content of this movie represents and is the movie’s biggest and best portrayal: the story of a woman who is destroyed by raising a sociopath.
In that regard, this movie ranks a damn fine 8 or 9 for “realistic portrayal” because Kevin shows much of what we understand about sociopaths today: a deep-bred lack of empathy, perhaps a little charisma, a lot of manipulation, impenetrable self-involvement, and a calculated disinterest in the well-being of others. Focusing on his face is, as Ramsay points out in the “To watch me” monologue, basically the reason why we’re here to see this movie. Behind the stone-faced villainy we want to see the mechanics of a brain we still do not understand.
The story is great because it sets mother and sociopath at a balanced mutual antagonism and draws frequent parallels between them, but does so while fully and clearly deconstructing the “Well it’s the parents’ fault” easy-way-out people take. Movements between Eva and Kevin are matched, sometimes as pure graphical matches and jump cuts, though a part of that may also refer to most of the story being told through Eva’s flashbacks (more on that later).
Kevin is a great character because he sets out to destroy his mother and his father and does so in the most complete way possible. With the mother he exploits the mutual antagonism into true long-term debilitating stress, and with the father he wins his heart and manipulates him; best of all, this turns mother and father against each other instead of against Kevin. Kevin is a great sociopath because he is able to push the punishment and the blame off onto someone else via his manipulation. He uses the fondness of his father, his sister, and so on. His sister never speaks out against Kevin despite Kevin’s bullying, because Kevin moderates his voice to make it sound fond. Kevin also has absolutely no real interests of his own except watching the destruction that he creates.
He is good enough to let his mother in, in a few poignant sequences, so that she still has hope for him. Despite the constant stress and antagonism, it is clear that she still is blind to the wider implications of his behavior as well as still deeply down wants him to care for her. It is in the few moments that those are revealed that the movie has its sort of most tragic and horrifying aspects, save the actual high school massacre scene.
Ehrenstein points out a few good examples in his original post as well.
So all in all, as a portrayal of a parent and her sociopathic son, this movie was a tightly developed thriller that stands alone from some of the more celebrity-obsessed aspects of most serial killer genre movies. Kevin’s sort of true-to-form self-congratulatory nature and I would say realistic ethical nihilism (like the “Your computer is fucked, isn’t it?” scene which was another moment of genius) could create a bit of nitpicking in terms of the usual nitpicks about this subject matter: that it mythologizes the sociopath, that Ramsay criticizes the audience for being interested in watching the subject matter while still portraying the subject matter, etc. Kevin’s “…to watch me” monologue was a definite moment of pushing a larger thematic point that the drama survives well without.
My problem with the movie involves much of the rest. Now, one of the most tragic (and thus compelling) parts of the story is that Eva ultimately gets blamed for Kevin’s actions, even though she is the one who suffered the most as a result of them. I think this is another very strong part of the movie that was very important to see, but the flashback nature of the narrative and especially a lot of the earlier build-up I did not think worked very well for what the movie actually had going for it. The first fifteen minutes of the movie or so is an absolute mess. It takes Ramsay that long, really, to know where to start the movie—she jumps between flashbacks within flashbacks while playing camera tricks like long focus-pulls, disconcerts the viewer with non-synced audio, ratchets up noise to bothersome levels, and shoots a fragmentory handheld. All of these things are obviously purposeful, and the larger mood she seems to be aiming to create is the headache of Eva as the narrative opens. John Cassavetes can be held as an example of someone who purposefully crafts a feature to upset and discomfort the viewer without turning the viewer against the movie itself. The greater, longer lasting, and really more important negative emotional aspects of this movie are within the drama and pain of the characters and Kevin’s slow, terrifying development, whereas Ramsay’s more abstract interludes of color and soft focus and shakiness and grating, irritating noises and music actually upset that otherwise carefully crafted feeling. I think it does no service to the movie.
That said, it would have probably worked better if it had closed out, not opened into, the movie.
Also, the flashback structure reveals too much too quickly when again, the emotional perspective of Eva as a character is something that gets layered onto her with events over time. From the moment of the baby crying to the revelation of just how far Kevin goes and everything in between is something that she deals with as a building pressure, and whenever the movie is shot in that way it works; when that pressure is exploded in these momentary intervals, it’s upsetting but not in the way that does justice to what is supposed to be upset in the audience. It also gives the end game away, and what’s the fun of that?
Also, the very beginning shots are, from my experiences of Morvern Callar, pure Ramsay: gorgeous, sort of curious, and completely bafflingly pointless. It seems to refer to later allusions of Eva as a famous travel writer, something she tries to escape into but is locked away from by Kevin: the map room/Kevin sprays paint in it; the job she gets at the travel agency; the book that she wrote that Kevin seems to be hunting down; etc. The beginning is a festival that paints her red—red is the (expected) thematic color of the movie. But an implication somewhere in there is that that festival is the root, the beginning, of her problems.
Let us imagine the movie, instead, where it opens simply on her observing the red paint thrown on her car and house. We do not know why this is done, and she is barely able to contain herself when she discovers it. Throughout the rest of the narrative, she cleans up the paint while thinking back to the events that are the cause of people’s treatment of her, punctuated by actual scenes of them taking their blame out on her. That all makes sense.
But she’s covered in red before the events occur, and before it is used to be taken out on her. There is, in fact, in this an implication that it is the sordid history of her past or something that is to blame, drugs or whatever. The way she gets with her husband seems to refer to a haze. The way she and he drinks. But I don’t buy it, and really, I don’t see how the opening shots fit or describe anything really connected to the inherent antagonisms of Kevin and Eva, or Kevin’s personality at all. It would make more sense if Eva seemed or felt to be in some state of bliss at the moment, but instead there is a look of panic on her face, and the red implies a dire or disturbed setting. I mean, she’s literally covered in it.
Lynne Ramsay protracts several aspects of this movie in such a way. The long drive home during Halloween, for example. The Halloween kids hassling her for candy being intercut with Kevin’s temper tandrum makes sense; the paranoia she feels with the kids around her as she’s driving home makes sense… but for some reason, for Ramsay that’s not enough. She has to increase the length to push the point but the scene itself is pointless: Eva’s paranoia is perfectly elucidated in, for instance, how she tries to apologize for breaking Kevin’s arm, or when she gets blamed for leaving out the Drain-o. In other words, Ramsay is trying to build a more abstract emotional construction instead of a traditional narrative empathy, and I cannot say it really does the movie she already has behind it all justice….
…especially since the high school massacre scene is so well done. If Ramsay had held off on belaboring her points early on, especially the more disconcerting elements, the explosion of violence (even though the real violence is off-screen) at the end would have made a more approximately perfect movie, I think.
But I was not the one who directed it, so of course I could be wrong. I just think that this is another movie of the type you see every so often, where a perfectly good movie exists inside of it, but extra stuff was layered on that did the original concept no justice. Like, yes, Inglourious Basterds, where Shoshanna’s story is the heart of everything and the only thing in the movie worth talking about, but Tarantino ignored that to be more Tarantino.
And yes I did just compare Ramsay to Tarantino.
Since what I wrote above is messy, I would not be surprised if I end up misunderstood. I am not nitpicking Ramsay’s use of specific shots just because I did not like them or anything like that, what I am trying to say is that she successfully pulls the audience into the emotional trauma, paranoia, and even irritations and discomforts and headaches of Eva throughout much of the movie without adding any of these stylistic flourishes, which to me only serve to turn those negative and hard-to-sit with emotional responses of the audience against the movie itself.
Now, someone could say “that’s the point” but no, it isn’t. The point is to watch the movie and be disturbed, not watch the movie and be irritated by it itself.
Oh, and finally, this is the movie that Rob Zombie needs to sit down to watch so that he can understand that there are drastically more important things about exploring the psyche of a sociopath than resorting to hillbilly jokes, since, in some way, it is everything he was trying to do in the first half of Halloween only, you know, done correctly.
Nothing, huh? I figured this movie would make a good Mubi forum social counterpoint to Captain America or something.