The most terrifying film of the year, no question. What a taxing movie this is, brutally uncompromising and yet all too realistic unlike the similar but over-nightmarish Trust. Expanding on those magazine covers and news reports with titles and questions like “Where do monsters come from?,” Tilda Swinton is the mother of Kevin, who has murdered a number of classmates in a tragic high school massacre. Swinton gives an absolutely brave performance, and I hate using that word to describe actors because a) it’s overdone and b) they’re getting paid, how brave can they be, but Swinton here is so unlikable, unappealing and unsympathetic, what else can one call it? She’s a disheveled mess, she’s clearly given up and the process of scraping blood-like paint left by vandals off her home and getting punched in the face by parents of victims has become something she expects and accepts. She’s struggling to live with herself, she feels guilty for what Kevin has done and terrified that the part that made Kevin do it was the part she gave to him.
Flashbacks show the raising of young Kevin and Swinton is hardly likable here either. The boy from the first is angry, uncooperative and trying and Swinton doesn’t help by making nasty comments and going too far physically in a few situations. John C. Reilly is a secondary character as the husband and father there just to misunderstand and add to Swinton’s frustration. It is a testament to the movie that it doesn’t feel it needs to use Reilly extensively and he makes his reduced minutes count, appearing in the most shocking shot of the movie and one of the most shocking shots of 2011. Sometimes the soundtrack is a little on the nose but this is a devastating look at the effects that actions have on others as well as a character study of a truly unhappy person.