(This is a fairly spoiler heavy review, so if you're interested in seeing the film: Be Warned)
WNTTAK is an intense psychological drama/horror film focusing on the relationship between a sadistic teen (Ezra Miller), and his aggressively naïve mother (Tilda Swinton) who only wants to connect with her vengeful child. The film documents their family history in flashbacks through Eva, the mother's, perspective as she attempts to decode how her son went horribly wrong. You see, Kevin wasn't a "bad" child in the traditional sense. He executed an unforgivable crime; one that has changed his own life, his mother's, and hundreds more. Marching into his high school with a bow and multiple arrows, Kevin performed the atrocity of massacring his fellow students, and earlier in that treacherous day, his own father and younger sister. Now Kevin awaits turning 18 for placement into federal prison, and his mother must confront the town, along with her personal demons. Unsettling, disquieting, and unrelentingly grim, Ramsey attempts to breach the matter of school shootings by giving a fictional origin story for one of these teenaged sociopaths, while adding depth by showing their aftermath on their family and victims.
My problems with the film weren't attributed to the subject matter (I knew what I was getting involved with by the premise), but rather with the director's blatant manipulations to further disturb the audience. An example of which can be found in the final minutes of the film, when we finally flashback to the massacre itself. Because of constant indications throughout the film up to this point, it's fairly easy for the audience to understand why Kevin would slaughter his classmates, despite how repulsive the act is. He has no conception of social cues, and due to his blatantly sadistic nature his hatred for basic popularity can be implied. However, there are no clues left by screenwriters Rory Kinnear and Lynne Ramsay as to why Kevin would murder his father (John C. Riley) and younger sister (Ashley Gerasimovich) as well. In fact, nearly all scenes featuring Kevin with either of these two family members could be considered the most pleasant of the film. Kevin is a horrifically troubled teenager, not a psychopath who kills at random. Another notable example of audience manipulation would be a downright inexplicable Halloween set sequence in which a post-massacre Eva's house is brutally vandalized for not having candy for trick-or-treaters, with costumes ripped straight out of John Carpenter's Halloween. Seemingly having no reason to exist other than to try frightening, this also took the viewer into unbelievable territory in what attempts to be a fairly realistic film.
What helps this film pass through exceedingly questionable strikes against audience logic would be the outstanding performances. Riley, Miller, and most notably Swinton, are simultaneously thought provoking, grounded, and occasionally terrifying in their respective roles. Despite her clear parenting violations during Kevin's childhood, Swinton succeeds in turning a pitiable, yet somewhat despicable woman into a character you empathize with and root for. It's a truly highlight performance, could fairly be considered to be the best aspect of the film. To the same levels as Swinton is surprisingly empathetic, Miller is realistically vile as Kevin. Combination of well written character and performance, watching Miller in a scene is like a mystery. You understand why Eva so desperately wants to discover reasoning behind her son's atrocities, as you do yourself. Sadly, Riley isn't given very much to do here, but his moments as Kevin's kind and lightly comedic dad add pleasantness to a film which desperately needs it.
Disturbing, but not always with the intention of plot development, this is an unquestionably bleak film about an indescribably bleak topic. While it suffers from fairly major flaws in character logic, along with pointless scenes which could've been left on the cutting room floor for the film's benefit, WNTTAK boasts incredible performances which hold the film up in it's most unsettling moments. It's very difficult to recommend however, so be your own judge as to whether you can handle the material. Now if you excuse me, I'm going to cry a little bit.