Eva Katchadourian (Tilda Swinton) recalls the last time she was truly happy, at the tomato festival in Spain where she had a great time. She used to be a travel writer, but now stays on her own in a town in the United States, and her life is one of abject misery thanks to the actions of her son, Kevin (Ezra Miller). It is his fault she has no friends, lives in a tiny house, has no one to live with, and this morning has had her property splashed with red paint: but she is wondering, could it have actually been my fault, and is the community which hates me correct to do so?
If you don't know what it is that Kevin has done, director and co-writer (with Rory Kinnear) Lynne Ramsay didn't keep it much of a secret, thanks to the non-linear format they told their adaptation of Lionel Shriver's novel with, so you can guess there has been some kind of school massacre taken place which he is responsible for. But the question here was whether Eva could take responsibility as well, as after all she had been the one who brought him up, and she never wanted him to be born in the first place, deciding to make the best of it with husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) and now searching for whatever went wrong in her mind.
But the problem with the premise here was that Eva was one of the victims, and her son was never going to be anything but evil. Even when he is a tiny baby, he harrasses his mother by crying non-stop, as if punishing her for her inability to love her offspring - when his father picks him up he's fine. This continues throughout repetitive scenes of Eva getting hassled by Kevin throughout his childhood up to the age of sixteen when he commits his horrendous crime, but there was some shaky thinking going on here, rendering what could have been an insightful character study into what makes a mass murderer into something more at home with the Bad Seed style of horror movie making.
If Kevin didn't have a chance, then that's not what the audience was guided towards as we are meant to see him through Eva's eyes, and in that view he was born bad, an outdated assumption to say the least and needlessly reducing a complex number of factors as to what breeds a killer into having Kevin be wholly the Devil's child from his conception onwards. You could argue that we were privy to Eva's opinion and it was her story we were watching, so naturally that's the way she felt about him, but take her husband, for example, he loves his son, dotes over him and appears to get a decent reception from the boy in return, yet even that is presented as his Satanic manipulation of other's emotions which only Eva can perceive.
If it wasn't such a serious subject, it would be absurd, but there were other things to take issue with, not least transforming of a genuine problem - mass killings - and making them look false. See Kevin's weapon of choice: a bow and arrow, which exonerates all those gun manufacturers whose products are by far and away the most widespread implements used in massacres, but here we never see so much as a pistol in the kid's hand. This raises credibility drawbacks when you could envisage him being taken down by a bystander once the first arrow had been fired, but here we're supposed to swallow that he wiped out a whole class. Even worse is that Kevin starts out as awkward, then turns into a bully who picks on his mother because no one would believe a child would act this way (gee, I wonder why?), then by the grim finale is some kind of budding supervillain capable of acts far outwith the boundaries of reason. If Swinton's horrified performance was the best thing about this, her persecution carrying a powerful sting, then the rest was frustratingly deceptive. Music by Johnny Greenwood.