Tagged School Shooting

We Need to Talk About Kevin: Examining the Myth of Motherhood

We Need to Talk About Kevin. 2011. Directed by Lynne Ramsay. Screenplay by Rory Stewart Kinnear & Lynne Ramsay; based on the novel of the same name by Lion Shriver.
Starring Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. Reilly, Jasper Newell, Ashley Gerasimovich, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Alex Manette, James Chen and Lauren Fox. BBC Films/UK Film Council/Independent.
Rated R. 112 minutes.

Director Lynne Ramsay has done a couple very interesting films thus far. Her debut feature Ratcatcher is a bleak but important bit of cinema. Her follow-up feature, Morvern Callar, is a beautiful, elegant and atmospheric film with a solid performance from Samantha Norton. Ramsay’s style is at times gritty and realistic, which lends itself excellently to We Need to Talk About Kevin, and others it can take on the quality of dreams, again giving power to her latest work.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is not just powerful filmmaking. It is also incredibly powerful storytelling and writing in general. The novel tackled a viciously sensitive subject in the United States. Five years later, we still hear of school shootings, or mass shootings in general every few weeks, if that. The specter of Columbine will always loom over the U.S. no matter if there was never another shooting at a school again. But the fact it’s become too commonplace in the States is just another sensitive point in this dark tale. However, it isn’t simply the violence which Ramsay focuses on in her film, it is the lead up to the violent act which Kevin commits that takes center stage. Watching this film is a way of understanding the other side, the families of those who commit atrocious acts, and Ramsay dives to the heart of doubt, guilt, and self-hatred with the help of one of the greatest actors of our time, Tilda Swinton, as well as the enormous talent of young Ezra Miller.
Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) has seen better days. Long after the incident which marred her life for eternity, she struggles to find work. She used to be a great travel writer, a cushy job and lots of security. But after her troubled son Kevin (Ezra Miller) murdered and permanently injured many people at his high school, life is a bit rough. Her and former husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) no longer love one another, which really started to happen even before the killing, but ever since Kevin’s hideous acts their relationship is worse.
As Eva struggles to try and make it through her immediate future, we watch the flashbacks of her life, including even the ones she might not want us to witness. We see how Kevin grew into what he became, the monster which walked into that high school and killed people, but more than that we discover why Eva is almost determined to take the abuse thrown at her by strangers, grieving fathers and mothers in the streets. The guilt she feels is due to her relationship with Kevin.
But can we really blame Eva, no matter what she did, for Kevin’s actions?
This film presents us with a moral dilemma. Now, there’s never a point where I once thought Eva should be held responsible for her son’s murderous nature. At the same time, though, we still find ourselves questioning her parenting skills. One of the most interesting scenes, or more so a set of scenes which parallel one another, is when Eva gives birth. The two scenes are juxtaposed at different points in time, but if we remember them together it’s intriguing. First, when Eva has Kevin not only do we witness the pain and struggle she went through during labour, we further see the distant and detached look on her face afterwards, as if Eva knew she were giving birth to a child that would cause her more torment over the years. Later on, after Eva gives birth to her little girl when Kevin is about six-years-old, the mother is happy, holding her child and showering the newborn baby with affection. I find these two scenes amazing in what they suggest. Not that you’ll find it hard to understand all those sentiments in other portions of the film. Almost every scene is weighted down with significance.
A theme I loved here is that of washing blood off of one’s hands, which we see physically represented at various points throughout the film. Such as in the first scene where we’re introduced to the present day Eva; her house and car are covered in red paint, obviously thrown by angry people either connected to the shooting by relation to victims or just people from town who scapegoat her as the mother of a killer. Afterwards, Eva tries to sandblast the paint off her siding, effectively washing the blood off her entire home. Another scene later sees Eva washing a blood-like substance of her hands into the sink, an even better image of her in the vein of Lady Macbeth, only she had no part in Kevin’s murders. She only thinks she did, as a supposedly bad mother. Yet what the whole angle of Eva’s being a good or bad mother presents is this: can we sometimes, in rare cases, actually blame the child for a mother, or father, being hard, uncaring, et cetera? It’s almost as if Kevin pushed her into being the mother she was, bringing on all her anger and loathing. We see both sides, and in the end are left to judge exactly what we feel. Near the end there’s a moment when Eva hugs her son close, perhaps the first time since he was a tiny infant unable to push her away, and you can feel that she does love him. It’s simply that Kevin, from day one as a screeching baby, has made it a tough thing to do.
Both Miller and Swinton give terrific, out-of-the-park performances as troubled son and withered mother. On top of the atmosphere Ramsay conjures up with gorgeous, darkly framed scenes and plenty of intensely raw close-ups, these two actors propel We Need to Talk About Kevin towards near masterpiece. A definite 4.5 out of 5 star film. Each time I see it there is a new disturbing feeling with which I walk away, every time there is something else to catch my eye, and catch the words in my throat to describe how I feel. Swinton is the centerpiece of this wonderful movie and carries much of it on her shoulders alone, even in those silent moments where all we get is her face, her eyes. Although, you can’t forget about Miller either, whose star only rises further and further with each film he takes on. All the elements of Ramsay’s film come together to leave a stone in your gut, in your heart. If you can handle the morbidity, I definitely suggest this as a movie for a rainy afternoon, a dark night, or any time you can handle its at times tough to digest themes.

American Horror Story – Murder House, Episode 6: “Piggy Piggy”

FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 6: “Piggy Piggy”
Directed by Michael Uppendahl (ShamelessRay DonovanThe Walking Dead)
Written by Jessica Sharzer

* For a review of the previous episode, “Halloween: Part II” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Open House” – click here
screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-10-41-01-pmThe opening sequence of “Piggy Piggy” fittingly goes further into the story of Tate Langdon (Evan Peters) by examining the horrifying act which took him into the afterlife, as we were pretty much all but explicitly told in the last episodes “Halloween: Part I” & “Halloween: Part II.”
Harkening back to now sadly commonplace shootings like the infamous Columbine High School shooting, we watch the high school kids – the dead ones – from last episode, but here they are alive. Then the gunshots ring out. Eventually, a boy in a long trench coat approaches, his facepaint faded no doubt from working up a sweat killing his classmates. He walks around the library, as the others hide, and one by one he blows them away.
This is absolutely chilling stuff. In 2011 we can look back at this stuff, even though it’s not actually that far in the past yet – not at all – and now we can examine it, through literature, film, television. Back in late 1999 after the real Columbine and even a few years down the road, nobody would have been willing to put this kind of stuff into a television show. At least not that I can remember, anyways. But I guess that’s been one of the greatest parts about networks like HBO, AMC, FX, Showtime (and so on) picking up steam and leading the charge in one hour dramas. We’re getting to see stuff with more depth than all the normal bullshit regular networks spew out by the dozens upon dozens each year.screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-10-41-36-pmAfter our flashback we come to present day, as Violet Harmon (Taissa Farmiga) is beginning to comprehend exactly who Tate is, and perhaps everything else that’s going on in dear ole Murde House.
Luckily, even while she’s freaking out, Violet has Constance Langdon (Jessica Lange) to lean on. Of course, Constance wants to help her son. In comes Billie Dean Howard (Sarah Paulson), a self-styled psychic who is friends with Constance. She helps explain Tate doesn’t realize he’s dead, either, so they need to help him crossover to the other side. This is a welcomed and interesting addition to the season.
Creepy little scene as Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton) has a dream of herself, big pregnant stomach, and a strange claw-like stroke or two against the flesh. She screams, waking herself. Awesome stuff! Almost felt Rosemary’s Baby-ish.
More of the family dynamic is being stressed to the max. Luke (Morris Chestnut) seems to be getting friendly with Vivien, not in a weird way but still there is a slight tension of sorts between the two. Husband Ben (Dylan McDermott) is living elsewhere for the time being, only coming back to conduct his patients’ sessions. This obviously causes friction, then naturally the presence of Luke sets Ben on edge; cheaters are always the most jealous types.
This episode is fun because Eric Stonestreet guest stars as Derek, a name patient of Ben’s whose fear of urban legends near paralyzes him completely socially. Worst of all is the latest – Piggy Man. The supposed legend of a hog butcher in 1893, during the World Fair; he slaughtered pigs wearing a pig mask made from one of the dead pigs, he would snort at them, killing. One day he slipped, the pigs supposedly ate every bit of him. However, later on customers of his began disappearing. It’s a Bloody Mary type legend, if repeated in the mirror three times – “Here Piggy Pig Pig” – the Piggy Man will turn up and slaughter YOU!
I love it because urban legends are so fun. They’re a blast because so many of them take realistic forms; you imagine, why not – why couldn’t that happen? But also Stonestreet does an awesome job with his character, so scared and socially disturbed all due to his own mind, warping these urban legends into palpable, real life events that could happen to him, only him. He’s only in a single episode, yet I really enjoy his performance. I’ve honestly never ever seen/noticed him in anything else. Here, he does well.

And unfortunately for patient Derek, when Ben has him go into the bathroom at Murder House and try the Piggy Man game, one of the house’s many ghosts (this time it’s one of the nurses who was murdered in 1968) shows up and frightens the life out of him. It’s almost funny, in a darkly comic way, yet I feel so badly for the guy. He even tells Ben: “I’m broken!” He picked the wrong house to go to for a psychiatrist.
More devilish stuff happening, as Constance brings by thymus glands and a pancreas for Vivien to eat. Y’know – for the unborn baby. A bit of offal will do the trick. Moira (Frances Conroy) happily fries the sweetbreads up for Mrs. Harmon and also gives a bit of womanly advice. Great, as well as weird scene. There’s a genuine tense atmosphere here, then we watch Vivien consume the meaty delights, now fried into little nuggets. Except the pancreas – Moira left that uncooked.
Can you sense where this is going? Can you tell why these meats ought to be fed to the baby? Especially raw pancreas.. hmmm. The little growing baby might have a taste for raw stuff. Perhaps it might even need… human stuff. Who knows. Because after all, it might not be Ben who got Vivien pregnant. Mr. Rubber Man had a little something, possibly, to do with that.
And as Constance says they NEED a baby. Better yet, the house needs one.
Poor Violet is having the hardest time coming to terms with everything around her, from the pain her mother is going through with a cheating father, to coming to terms with Tate and his awful history of murder. Seeing such a tender side to Tate in the afterlife, Violet has a difficult time understand how someone like him could’ve killed all those kids at school. There’s a great and depressing scene with Violet and one of the teachers who was shot by Tate – now in a wheelchair. Awesome scene, but it is definitely sad.
Now she’s seeing all the ghosts of the house, she is becoming more aware of everything going on around her. However, Violet takes a ton of pills in order to kill herself. Tate finds her and tries to save her, hauling her into a cold shower, sticking fingers down her throat. It’s tough because Tate obviously doesn’t realize he is dead, so he fights and fights to keep Violet alive. There’s this great irony in all of that situation.

Vivien ends up meeting the ultrasound technician who fainted while reading her sonogram. This part was incredible because it turns out she saw “the hooves” and it was “the beast“, “plague of nations“. Obviously Vivien believes nothing the woman says, thinking her crazy, and leaves the church (of all places) where they met. The scene works so well and further makes you wonder why Constance and Moira insist on feeding her internal organs; that baby ain’t quite right.
I’m also conflicted about how to feel concerning Constance. While I think part of her is truthful, she seems a bit of an actress in the end; we know she wanted to be one. But the show she puts on, as if she loved Addie (Jamie Brewer), I don’t know how honest it truly is when it comes down to brass tacks. Because we saw the cruelty and even awkward, misguided jealousy Constance threw on Addie while alive. She locked her in the closet, accused her of trying to steal her boyfriends. I mean, are we really supposed to believe Constance loved her? Perhaps it’s all just after the fact, she realizes how wonderful Addie was and what a treasure of a daughter she had. Either way, I love Jessica Lange and her performance – Constance is the type of character you hate to love, and love to hate at separate times.
Though Tate is a mass murderer, I do feel bad for his ghostly self. He has no idea that he’s in the afterlife, stuck wandering the house but with no clue as to why, or even that it’s happening. He’s in love with Violet, he confesses it straight up. Also, though, he understands she’s changed in some way towards him. She doesn’t say anything, but we know that Violet knows about him; everything from the shooting to the fact he’s dead, a spirit left stuck in the middle somewhere.
screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-10-48-27-pmGreat episode. Moved things along nicely in terms of plot, as well as character development.
Next episode up is “Open House” directed by Tim Hunter – an accomplished television director, whose work also includes the dark modern classic River’s Edge starring a young Keanu Reeves and Crispin Glover, Dennis Hopper, along with other well-known faces.
Stay tuned for another review, horror fans!

Chasing the White Rabbit of Anger

White Rabbit. 2013. Dir. Tim McCann. Written by Anthony Di Pietro.
Starring Nick Krause, Sam Trammell, Britt Robertson, and Ryan Lee. Breaking Glass Pictures.
Unrated. 90 minutes.


White Rabbit is the story of Harlon (Krause) – a normal, awkward young man who is trying, like a flower stuck in a walk of pavement, to grow up through being constantly bullied at school and even at home by his forceful father and family. The beginning of the film show us his encounter with the titular rabbit, which is a moment that also closes out the film. This is something which reoccurs throughout; Harlon sees the white rabbit, over and over again.
imageHis life really gets complicated once he meets a girl, much unlike the other people he knows at school, named Julie (Robertson). She is sort of like Harlon; jaded, broken, and though she tries to look tough underneath it all, very sad. They bond. His only other friend is another bullied young boy named Steve (Lee), who aside from being deemed an outcast looks pretty small and young for his age. Unfortunately Steve has a lot of problems, though Harlon tries to help as best he can.

Eventually, Julie goes away. Harlon is left by himself mostly, as Steve has his own problems and his own family with which to deal. Then suddenly Julie reappears, but now she is a whole new person; she had problems, went away, and come home new. Harlon can’t deal with this, especially after he sees Julie is with his high school nemesis, the one who bullied him most growing up. From here, things spiral out of control, as Harlon finally starts to fight back against his bullies, and darker, more rage-filled fantasies start to rise up in him.
344a25e40348e8880a7ee7a861523022A lot of other reviews I came across seemed to file White Rabbit away with a lot of lesser, similar films. Yes, the scenario here seems fairly close to other dramas. Yes, the way it plays out could remind you of other films. However, this finishes in a very unpredictable manner. I honestly didn’t expect the finale of White Rabbit. Though I had some idea where this might be headed, the finale of the film really did catch me off guard. Because you resign yourself to a particular ending and then just before the credits roll it does a switch on you, finishing instead with an ambiguous note. Well, not so much ambiguous, as we can guess what Harlon will do, or rather what we hope he will do, but still the director opts not to show us any decision; only the option for decision. Of course, you’ll understand more once you see it. I’m being deliberately vague, so as not to ruin anything. Just know that you don’t necessarily have all the answers. Wait until the very last moment.

The acting here was spot on. Nick Krause did a fine job as Harlon. We basically watch him transform from a little boy, pushed around and abused by everyone near him, to a teenager, to a young man, and still abused just as much as when we first saw him. The real transformation comes after he’s all but lost every last thing in his life worth being sane for, and snaps while on the verge of becoming something far worse than anyone could ever imagine. Some say his acting here was wooden; I disagree. He played things subtly. He acted quite well, making Harlon out to be a little boy still trapped in the body of a young and burgeoning man. Because of the people around him, he was never able to really become a man, stunted by constantly being told (by bullies and his own despicable father) he’s a pussy or a faggot, or some other just as hurtful and terrible insult. I’ve personally never seen Krause in anything else. After this, I’ll be sure to at least check out another film he’s been in, or will be in.
Britt Robertson is pretty energetic and pulls off the character of Julie well; she reminded me a lot of a few girls I knew in high school, really fit the part.
VSZQfW.pngParticularly, though, I enjoyed Sam Trammell as Harlon’s father, Darrell. He was easy to hate because Trammell did a bang-up job. I really didn’t like him as a person, but as a character loved him. There was always a feeling just below his surface suggesting so much more about him than we actually get to see. I got the feeling Darrell was the typical sort of man who never became much, whether because of extenuating circumstances or his own doing who knows, but that’s the way he portrayed the character. Maybe Darrell was one of those hometown all-stars who played hockey or football growing up, everyone knew him, yadda yadda, and then never amounted to anything out in the real world. Regardless of what his actual story is, Trammell was great, and I really enjoyed watching his scenes with Krause; their troubled father and son dynamic truly worked.
For a small, relatively unknown film, White Rabbit really delivers. Although there are a few points which could have been edited out to save the film’s pacing, overall it is really wonderful. There are a ton of similar films, as I mentioned before, which might seem just as good. But if you stick with White Rabbit through until the end you’ll really get a treat.

I don’t often try to jump ahead of the plot in a film because for one it ruins things for me if I start guessing, and two I’d rather try to stay in the moment when I can, but I figured this one out early on. Not that it ruined things for me – on the other hand, I then sat back and enjoyed the performances, as well as some of the scenery which was beautiful at times. But I thought I knew how this would go. I didn’t. Not many films truly surprise me in that sense, so for that White Rabbit really should be highly recommended. It plays on our fears, relating the story of Harlon to other similar stories, but without the end provided here. This will suck you in. It’s not a controversial film. Essentially, I believe this is a hopeful film. The end provides a glimmer of it. Though it doesn’t actually go ahead and serve up hope by the slice or anything, the very final moment gives us a tiny glimmer we can hold onto and walk away with. That’s the final message of everything. It shows as a bright spot in the darkness. Sort of how Harlon dies one spot of his hair a pink-ish colour; one bright patch in a sea of black. I loved it. Anthony Di Pietro hasn’t written anything else I know of, though after this I really hope to see more, as the story of White Rabbit is impressive.
lF1TIO.png This has been shown at a few festivals, et cetera, since its release in 2013, but recently Breaking Glass Pictures apparently picked up the distribution end, so hopefully this will soon make a wider debut for people to enjoy it as much as I did when I was lucky enough to catch this.