And trailing behind, like a foot-dragging teenager on a family holiday, here's a startling adaptation of We Need To Talk About Kevin from the former mistress of Scottish miserabilism, Lynne Ramsay. Hateful, homicidal and sharp as an arrow head, Kevin Khatchadourian is one of the great literary monsters of our time, a furious, physical manifestation of his career-mum's own ambivalence towards motherhood. But is Kevin really just a born-Satan? Or the inevitable result of bad parenting?
Shriver's novel craftily allows for dual, even simultaneous readings, although Ramsay's adaptation, less psychodrama than impressionistic horror, pretty much nails its genre colours to the mast from the outset. And all those colours are red. Fittingly, the film's dominant palette is the colour of murder, represented in almost every frame: a fire alarm; a pool of strawberry jam, insolently seeping from between two chaste white slices; a supermarket shelf of tomato soup cans, against which Eva (an excellent Swinton) splays herself, a sunken-eyed rabbit frozen in the death-stare of public outrage.
Screen Kevin is eeeeevil, no question – and he's going to make poor Eva pay and pay for her non-maternalism. "I'm going straight to Hell, eternal damnation, the whole thing" she blithely informs a pair of doorstepping missionaries, and she's absolutely correct. Whether he's cheerfully cultivating computer viruses the way others collect matchboxes, or leering at her like a satyr after she accidentally walks in on him masturbating, so relentless is Kevin's high dudgeon the film often risks tipping over into comedy. At any moment, you half expect him to pull a marmot out of a sack and start quoting Lebowski: 'I am a nihilist! I believe in nothing!' While his wolfing down of a lychee with hideous lip-smacking relish, mere minutes after his ridiculously angelic little sister has lost an eyeball in a highly suspicious cleaning fluid accident, is pure Hannibal Lector – a step too far in an otherwise carefully controlled film, steeped in Kubrickian menace.
A monster movie at heart then, but a smart one. Eva may be superficially presented as just another victim, yet locked together in some sick symbiosis with her son (brilliantly played by three actors, including a superbly saturnine Ezra Miller), she has more in common with him than either would care to admit. And tellingly, unlike Kevin's dupe of a dad or sap of a sister, mum's the only one this little devil ever shows his true face to. As the former proprietor of the Bates Motel once noted, "A boy's best friend is his mother."
It takes guts, too, to commence a movie with its single most powerful sequence: a squirming, orgiastic Valencian festival scene, in which a euphoric Swinton, arms outstretched in cruciform, is baptised in the juice of pulped tomatoes – as crimson as the walls of Gladstone High after Kevin has lain down his crossbow; as scarlet as the vengeful paint that splatters Eva's porch in its aftermath. In a film laden with visual riches, nothing ever quite tops it.