Early in Lynne Ramsey's new movie, the camera makes its way through a blond-wood-and-white-applianced kitchen to find a small girl eating multicolored cereal at the counter. As the camera hovers over her, not a little ominously, she turns around and you see that she's wearing an eye patch. There's no good reason that can be, and so, when the scene cuts suddenly to Eva (Tilda Swinton) dunking her face into water, you glean that the connection between them will be trouble.
Indeed. Eva is little Celia's (Ashley Gerasimovich) mother, who you learn soon enough feels guilty about her eye. This is because Eva's other child is Kevin (Ezra Miller), who becomes a school shooter. As horrific and sensational as this story is, the film, much like the novel that inspired it, is less horrific or sensational than it is disturbing for its relentless focus through Eva's eyes. Repeatedly, she struggles to accommodate her dim husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) and understand why her son is difficult, and we repeatedly watch her watching him. Because the film offers no outside, no view of Kevin that is not hers, it's never clear how his increasingly frightening behaviors evolve.
This isn't to say the film blames her, or even blames Kevin, for his monstrosity. The film offers no easy read, no way to separate yourself from the pain and rage that bind mother and son. And so it grants no moral ground, no way to judge how this plot turns so terrible, even though you know it will from the first moments.