We Need to Talk About Kevin ★★★½

This decades-late Problem Child sequel is almost oppressively uncomfortable and tense, following Tilda Swinton as the beleaguered mother of a boy who seems to be a psychopath and eventually acts out in bloodshed. (Don't think that's a spoiler, as it's made pretty clear in the first ten minutes.) It's a miserable thing to watch, with few redemptive moments even implied -- Swinton's Eva is absolutely and fully alone, with her husband (John C. Reilly) somehow oblivious to their son's alarming behavior, and seemingly sharing a much easier connection with him -- but it's a more persuasive portrait of violent adolescence than, say, Gus van Sant's Elephant, which took every possible shortcut in implicating everyone and everything except the perpetrators of the crime it depicted. Kevin (Ezra Miller) is a terrifying blank slate; the film was criticized (as was the novel, which I've not read) of simplifying things by positing the boy as absolute evil, but everything I've read about the likes of Eric Harris and Adam Lanza, driven by undiagnosed or ignored mental illnesses and unspeakable, indiscriminate hatred, suggests to me that the film's narrative is quite believable, and its lack of sentimental justification or explanation is thus welcome. (The least trustworthy element of the story is how the climactic crime is carried out; I have some familiarity with the choice of weapon and, uh, the notion of causing that much harm that quickly in that manner is pretty ridiculous.)

Newly Oscar-nominated Jonny Greenwood provides the score, mixed in with a bunch of very incongruous skiffle, though Ramsay's deliciously ironic music choices lay it on heavier and linger more: Buddy Holly's "Everyday" as a pre-traumatic stress anthem, the Beach Boys' "In My Room" underscoring the terrifying discovery that Kevin really seems to have no secrets to uncover; and Hank Snow's "Nobody's Child" because, well.