Last year I wrote that Pedro Almodóvar’s THE SKIN I LIVE IN was the creepiest film of 2011, well, I hadn’t seen this yet. Albeit it's creepier in a completely different (and much more preferable) way.
A intensely invested Tilda Swinton, who surpringly didn't get an Oscar nomination, stars as a woman who once was a successful author married with kids in a expensive house, but now is living in a dump of a home in a poor neighborhood.
How did she get there? Bit by bit her flashbacks tell us what happened, but the movie takes its sweet time in revealing the actual event. We can tell something incredibly tragic happened, as glimpses show a police scene with a crowd of shocked, crying people reacting to something offscreen.
It obviously has something to do with Swinton and husband John C. Reilly's first born, a nightmare of a child who stonewalls his mother, vandalizes her office, and puts his sister's hamster in the garbage disposal - just a few examples of his awful behaviour.
But Swinton is no great mother here. She dislikes the kid right from the start - she prefers the sound of a jackhammer in the street to her constantly screaming baby. Which is understandable, but less comprehensible is how Reilly is so oblivious to his wife and son's issues. Reilly is more involved with encouraging the boy's interest in archery, which you can sense will be very important later on.
The present day Swinton works an entry level position at a travel agency, and suffers through her lonely existence in which she is apparently octracized by the entire community.
This is one of the most draining, and often extremely unpleasant movies of recent memory, but it's also one of the most compelling without a dull moment right up until the end.
Swinton's performance is a study of focused anquish. I felt myself loathing her, yet at the same time I had equal feelings of pity and pain for the tortured character.
As I'm still processing it, I'm not sure if there was more humor in this picture than I grasped when watching it. Some of the soundtrack choices, like the Beach Boys' "In My Room" playing over a scene with Swinton snooping in her son's bedroom, made me think the film was trying to be too clever for its own good, but they didn't make me cringe like the stuff that was supposed to make me cringe.
I can't remember the last time I was so excruciatingly entertained. I kept cringing in advance of finding out what the kid (mostly played as a teenager by the effectively dead-eyed and acerbic Ezra Miller) did that was so horrific.
It may be a bit anti-climatic when it gets there, but the finely-crafted construction of the film doesn't falter, especially when concluding with a stirring, and blinding, final shot.
I suspect that Swinton wasn't Oscar nominated, because WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN may have been a conversation Academy members didn't want to have. If you're an adventurous movie-goer that's not afraid of dark material done well, don't make the same mistake.