Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin (15) ****

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From the moment it premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Scottish director Lynne Ramsay’s bravura adaptation of the award-winning novel by Lionel Shriver has been generating awards buzz.

In particular, Tilda Swinton’s fearless and emotionally wrought performance as a tormented matriarch is being tipped for Oscar consideration. All of the plaudits are well deserved.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is an extraordinary, haunting and poetic vision, documenting the aftermath of a senseless high school massacre from the perspective of the teenage perpetrator’s guilt-stricken mother.

Ramsay has performed miracles adapting the source text, structured as a series of letters from mother to her spouse that brilliantly dissects the relationship between parent and child caught in a violent tug of war between nature and nurture.

On the page, it’s chilling; on the canvas of the big screen, equally so, revealing the minutiae of the lead character’s shattered life. We sift, with mounting horror, through the fractured history of Eva Khatchadourian (Swinton) and her sociopath son, Kevin (Ezra Miller).

While Eva clashes with the boy, including a confrontation that results in a visit to hospital, Kevin slyly wins the affections of his father Franklin (John C Reilly), thereby driving a wedge between the parents. We Need To Talk About Kevin is breathtaking. Swinton is mesmerising, anguish etched across her face and Miller is unnerving, coolly biting his nails and then lining up the gnarled crescents on a table as he confesses that he no longer recalls why he took a bow and arrow to his classmates.

There are brief glimmers of humour such as when two Jehovah’s Witnesses knock at Eva’s door and ask: “Do you know where you’re spending the afterlife?”

“Oh yes, in Hell,” she responds, slamming the door in their faces.

Ramsay withholds the horror of the massacre to the closing frames and delivers a final hammer blow that explains why Eva walks through the film like an empty shell. We leave the cinema gasping for breath.