The effects of this movie, and its final scenes still cling to my bones. Speak No Evil winded down with a quick and punching descent into significant darkness, and it left me pondering the details I had consumed in the previous 70+ minutes of watching. Shook.
This is how horror is meant to be. The foreboding, the casual (but not really casual) cues that something is amiss. For most of Speak No Evil it feels like -to an extent- an awkward social exchange that most of us have dealt with. Especially with someone you hardly know, but are too polite to point out. You tuck away your discomfort and do the strange dance around the issue until it’s time to leave. Or is it?
Bjørn (Morten Burian) and Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch) and daughter Agnes (Liva Forsberg) meet Patrick (Fedja van Huêt) and Karin (Karina Smulders) and their son while on vacation. What a wonderful surprise! Right? They instantly hit it off, so when they’re invited to visit them in their home in Holland for a long weekend, they say yes. Even when they aren’t sure if it’s a good idea. You can feel their uncertainty, sense their apprehension, but, especially if you’re someone who hates to displease, the glass half full ideal makes you wonder… is it okay?
Christian Tafdrup co-writes and directs with a script that really hits. The tension builds to a point that’s unavoidable. Our leads are terrific, making this situation feel grounded even in its most exaggerated moments. The direction captures this too, making each leer of the camera or close up of precariousness, apt.
I love the progression of Speak No Evil. As you’d expect the tension grows and that pit in your stomach gnaws. This family is kind, and they genuinely want to give this new couple the benefit of the doubt. However, if there’s a film that proves listening to your gut is crucial, this is it. Folks, trust that, please. Things move from odd, to off, to completely unnatural, taking our emotions for a ride. I was perceptibly uneasy for most, remembering my own experiences of awkward first-ish encounters. This plays like a dry comedy that could be laughed off later to a worst case, horrifying scenario.
What transgresses is the worst of situations, with so many cringe moments where you want to simultaneously hug and yell at the cast. Our couple is smart, they know something is wrong, but they are also passive, which, is exactly why they are in this conundrum. The writing emphasizes this, balancing between sympathy and frustration. I reflected a lot on this film after seeing it, and I’m certain every detail was intentional.
With a no holds barred ending that is shocking, even if it is to a degree expected (though who knew it would look like this), Speak No Evil plays with our fears, and tickles our curiosity, ultimately delivering on the things we don’t want to face: people can be terrifying.
Speak No Evil premiered at Sundance Film Festival on January 22nd.