Of all the holidays celebrated worldwide, no single day is loved by the Substream staff more than Halloween. With October’s arrival, the time has finally come to begin rolling out a slew of special features we have prepared in celebration of our favorite day.
31 Days Of Halloween is a recurring column that will run throughout the month of October. The goal of this series is to supply every Substream reader with a daily horror (or Halloween-themed) movie recommendation that is guaranteed to amplify your All Hallows’ Eve festivities. We’ll be watching every film the day it’s featured, and we hope you will follow along at home. Reader, beware, you’re in for a… spooky good time!
Day 29: We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)
Someone once pitched We Need To Talk About Kevin to me as a movie that would scare the absolute hell out of me. Obviously a sorta quiet British film doesn’t come to mind as something you’d put on your Halloween calendar, so I wondered what the dickens they were yammering about. The New York Times said Kevin “masquerades as a psychological puzzle but is essentially a horror film.” They were trying to be snarky by seeming to “downgrade” its genre [makes jerk-off motion], but instead it made me want to see the film even more.
Deep down I’m not very frightened of monsters, or the dark, or the undead. I mean, they’re fun to be afraid of in movies and comics and books, but that’s all it is: Fun. What actually keeps me up at night are boring, practical things that pose a credible threat to my life, like armed burglary, or getting in a debilitating car accident. Or growing old too fast and being faced with my mortality too soon. Or something like what happens to Tilda Swinton in Kevin.
Lightning synopsis (this piece is mostly spoiler-free): Tilda Swinton plays a mother of a boy named Kevin who, even from birth, seems to absolutely hate her guts for no reason. Throughout his life he’s able to hide this from everyone but her to make her seem intolerant and destroy her relationships. This is intercut with a time indeterminately in her future where she is a social pariah, deeply despised by everyone in her community for some mysterious atrocity.
The demon child is a worn horror subgenre trope, but I’d argue that with Kevin being only metaphorically (as opposed to supernaturally) evil, it’s much closer to the kind of story where a character is trapped somewhere dark, small, and impossible to escape for all eternity.
When I really look into my own fear about the eventuality of having a kiddo, it stems from the idea of the incredibly unqualified and unprepared Me trying to mold some little thing in my image and screwing it all up, resulting in him becoming a Nazi or something. Kevin turns my fear of the nature vs. nurture discussion on its head: What if said kiddo was born a Nazi and I never even had a shot at making him or her a good person—and on top of that, everyone judged me for it? Worse: What if that baby Nazi hated me and only me for no damn reason? It’s plausible, guys. Too plausible.
Seriously, what the hell do you do in Tilda Swinton’s case? I’ve seen kids; they’re monsters. They can be little Moriartys. Even really young ones are smart enough to play others against you to get what they want. Kevin was smart enough to goad Swinton’s Eva into things she otherwise would never do and use it for blackmail. Everything that happens in the film is something that you can easily shrug your shoulders at and say, “…maybe?”
So let’s say Kevin’s my kid and I’m weighing my options. I could:
This movie gives me nightmares by presenting me with the real-life scenario in which I might just draw the short straw and be left holding the pieces with absolutely no way out.
The film tortures us and Tilda by providing absolutely no solace, no way out, no end in sight for any responsible human, and even when Kevin commits his final act in the film it’s still about torturing her, making her a hated social outcast for the rest of her life.
And why did he do it? Is it the same reason she was paired with a nightmare child in the first place? Why does the universe seem to be so ambivalent about the fairness of her life? The final line of the film: “I thought I knew… Now I’m not sure anymore.”
Today’s ’31 Days Of Halloween’ editorial was written by Aaron Moorhead, one half of the filmmaking duo behind such modern horror favorites as 2012’s ‘Resolution’ and 2014’s ‘Spring.’