You Won’t Speak No Evil (2022) After Watching This Uncomfortable European Horror
Title: Speak No Evil
First Non-Festival Release: March 17, 2022 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Christian Tafdrup
Writer: Christian Tafdrup, Mads Tafdrup
Runtime: 97 Minutes
Starring: Morten Burian, Sidsel Siem Koch, Fedja van Huêt, Karina Smulders
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
While on holiday in Italy, a Danish family, Bjørn (Morten Burian), Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch), and Agnes (Liva Forsberg) make friends with a Dutch family, Patrick (Fedja van Huêt), Karin (Karina Smulders), and Abel (Marius Damslev). After they return home, the Danish family receives an invitation from their new friends asking them to stay for the weekend at their countryside home. Musing it would be impolite to decline, the family heads out to the Netherlands. Their visit starts pleasant enough before devolving into an unexpected weekend of survival.
Deeply unsettling and uncomfortable, Dutch-Danish horror Speak No Evil goes for throat with pervasive atmosphere and dread.
What if being nice got you killed? Or worse, what if you caused a scene needlessly? This is the simple concept behind Speak No Evil. Over the course of the weekend, the Danes put up with gradually escalating affronts that threaten their sanity but not necessarily their lives. From loud music to spartan sleeping quarters and even confusion over picking up the tab, it seems like there is no moment of reprieve for the visiting family. There also isn’t much to be outraged by either, at least that is what polite social mores would have one believe. Speak No Evil directly addresses this when the family attempts to leave. The host family pleas “what have we done that is so terrible?” It puts the worried family in a state of self-doubt, which forces them to reconsider.
The passivity of the Danes acts as a parable to acceptance of authority and direction. Despite all three members feeling uncomfortable and even asking to leave multiple times, their dedication to image overrides their natural gut reaction to the situation. They know something is wrong, but they push that fear aside, so they don’t offend. Even when the situation has veered into the territory that something overtly bad will happen to them, they still fail to act. Their fate is sealed by their inaction.
Speak No Evil pulls no punches, allowing the audiences to sit with the gravity of what just happened and reflect on its application to the real world. The film asks viewers what are you willing to endure for the sake of niceties and how does other’s perception of you rank in importance compared to reasonable priorities, you and your family’s life, for instance.
The intelligence of its script showcases just how telegraphed the operation is for all involved. Small moments are peppered in within the first two acts that only in hindsight operate as much greater red flags. Speak No Evil emphasizes time and again that the acceptance of small wounds can only lead to bigger wounds being dealt later. It leans into the psychological phenomena known as the sunk-cost fallacy. The Danes have spent so much time and energy getting to their destination and knowing their hosts, that pushback might not be their first option. It’s only when they cross the line multiple times does the premise wear thin. Many might say that they would leave at point A, B, C, or wherever, but the truth is human beings are reasonably compliant, and some would rather freeze or fawn rather than fight or flee.
Beyond the clever writing, Speak No Evil is simply well-done horror. Unassuming cinematography showcases how normal everything looks, despite it being everything but normal. The commitment to tame and generic looking locations elevate the film to something more universal. The home, woods, and quarry look like they can be picked up and dropped off in any location and the horror would resume uninterrupted. The team makes great use of these locations too, amping up the tension in the tight confines of cramped restrooms and narrow hallways while giving the profound sense of isolation and feeling of loss with wide shots in open locations.
The biggest criticism lobbed on the film is that it is too good at hurting its audience. Due to the shocking and uncomfortable nature of the finale, it is bound to get some outrage. At the very least, it will engender irritation or confusion as to why the heroes can’t get a happy ending. That’s the point. The confines of its allegory and how it is executed matters more. Its morality tale gets twisted every now and then with stretches in believability, but they are easy enough to overlook on a broader scale.
Toiling with dark implications and never-ending anxiety, Speak No Evil sets its sights on being the most off-putting horror experience one can have. Thanks to its slow-burn script favoring gradual escalation of social impasses, this unrelenting Dutch-Danish film capitalizes on the human fear of not listening to your own gut. A morality tale with a gut punch ending, it’s likely that it will force you to have a strong opinion one way or another. Bleak, depressing, and even cruel at points, Speak No Evil is the downer horror film of the year that is guaranteed to get you talking.
Overall Score? 7.5/10