You know those television shows where something bad is about to happen to your favorite character before it says “three days earlier” with an explanation of how they got there? It’s like that (but in no way satisfying here).
When we first meet the downtrodden Eva (Tilda Swinton), she seems to be a husk of her former self, sleepwalking through life with the responsibilities of the world weighing her down. As she struggles to endure each new day, her memories give us insight as to how she got to this point in her solitary, lonely life. Eva sensed something wrong about her son, Kevin, from a very early age, a fact lost on his father (John C. Reilly) who only sees a loving son with a few forgivable development problems (such as being in diapers at the age of six). Fast forward to the future and the stage is set for tragedy, but who’s the one to blame for it all?
There’s a decent story here along with an above-average cast, but Kevin suffers from execution (and not the deserved one we’d like to actually see). The problem is that there’s no real mystery here other than the details; you can see it coming from a mile away, and it’s a bit tedious in getting to the point since the story chose to begin with the cat already out of the bag. All that leaves is the struggle of Swinton’s Eva in reconciling herself for what happened (which seems to be the point of the film and the source of drama with Ms. Swinton pouring her broken heart and tortured soul into it), because the families of the victims certainly have chosen to place the blame squarely on her (since they can’t get their hands around the neck of her son). Unfortunately, by the time it all comes to a conclusion, there’s less of a reconciliation and more an endurance than an ending; the cringe-worthy soundtrack littered with random folksy tunes doesn’t help, either.
As a world traveler and full-of-life writer who chose to share a life and start a family with a good man, Eva seems ill-equipped for motherhood, which could be argued was a catalyst for Kevin’s future delinquency, but it’s no secret that the child seems intent on making her miserable and delighting in it. At the same time, Kevin also takes after his mom, a self-made woman with her own degree of fame, and later appears to want that for himself (and has devised one hell of a shortcut). Child development experts cite that the personalities of children are set by age five, and standing next to a working jack hammer with a baby carriage to drown out the screams of your baby isn’t exactly a nurturing environment (dismissed in context by a doctor’s visit and a clean bill of physical health). The question throughout the film seems to be if Eva can forgive herself for her contribution to her child’s upbringing or absolve herself from it completely, but the story appears to end rather conclude.
The color red is reused throughout the film, hinting at the coming bloodshed with splashes of color and giving the production a more artistic feel than a tragedy in progress. As for the question of personal responsibility, just because a boy shows tendencies of evil from birth, does this absolve a mother from her parental responsibility for failing to drown him at birth? As the only person who saw him for what he was, if she’d had done the noble thing and gone to jail for pushing her own personal “Damien” into an open manhole, many others might have gone on to lead prosperous and fulfilling lives (and made for a much shorter, much more satisfying film).
(a two skull recommendation out four)