I’ve prided myself on having a pretty strong stomach for horrors portrayed on the big screen. I’ve sat through some pretty harrowing moments and some things I don’t think I will ever unsee. Curiosity often gets the best of me, and I’m admittedly hard to resist any list that is comprised of films no one should see. I don’t know that I’m willing to go through all of them, but “Speak No Evil” might just make the list of regrets. Not in a bad way, because the film itself is expertly crafted and sure to satisfy any rabid horror fan. But I can’t remember being so uncomfortable and disturbed by film, particularly its final act that culminates its slow burn build up into one of the most gruesome and unsettling conclusions I’ve seen in years. “Speak No Evil” is an unforgettable experience and not for the faint of heart, and is sure to test the limits of even the most daring fans of the macabre.
Making its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, “Speak No Evil” is Written and directed by Danish actor and filmmaker Christian Tafdrup. It tells the story of a Danish family and Dutch family who meet on holiday in Tuscany, Italy. They hit it off and have a wonderful time getting to know each other. A few weeks later, the Danish family receives an invitation to visit their new Dutch friends at the their countryside home for the weekend. Bjorn (the Danish father) is bored of his ordinary life and wants to do new things, and not wanting to be rude convinces his wife and young daughter to make the trip. After a few pleasantries, they are met with an increasing suspicion that this Dutch family may not be all they thought the were, and as things become increasingly unpleasant, the Danish family tries to remain as polite as possible even when their niceties may bring them to the point of no return.
“Speak No Evil” is a scathing yet smart satire of our desperate need to appease others. Separating the actual events and unsettling ending (which we’ll get to in a bit without spoilers), the films purpose is to demonstrate how far we’ll go to remain even keeled, and just how much that middle class passiveness can slowly transcend into subservience. We have built a culture on being everything to everyone all the time, and the need to be liked and seen as pleasant and unoffensive overwhelms us and dictates our human interactions to a fault. “Speak No Evil” isn’t necessarily saying we ALL do this, merely satirizing the generational mindset we find ourselves in sometimes. The film also expertly expresses the mental wearing down of micro-aggressions, and even provides commentary on things like gaslighting and manipulation. As viewers, we find ourselves screaming at the Danish couple as the unpleasantness slowly turns into outright nastiness, but “Speak No Evil” is so smartly crafted it continues to place blame on all parties. The Dutch for their repulsive, obvious devious intentions, and the Danish family continuously seeking the approval of their mental tormentors through their need to smile through it and not cause confrontation.
Tafdrup is acutely aware of his viewers frustration, intentionally drawing out scene after scene of uncomfortable situations that at first seem like nothing, but the more often they happen the more important and uncomfortable they become. For example, we learn early on that Louise (the Danish wife) is a vegetarian, and within hours of arriving at their Dutch friend’s home, she is forced (through pleasant, seemingly harmless insistence) that she try a bite of their duck that they’ve prepared for dinner. Not wanting to be rude to their hosts, she reluctantly takes the bite. Later, after the couples go out to a dinner (where their children are not allowed despite not telling the Danish family their daughter isn’t coming and will be left with their babysitter as their walking out the door) and Patrick (the Dutch father) manipulates Bjorn into paying for the entire meal that was forcibly meant to be a treat for them.
The slow build of these incidences all create an unnerving atmosphere from beginning to end, making “Speak No Evil’s” commentary feed into the horrors that await everyone as things begin to come into focus. The film makes the audience kind of question and put the pieces together, and once you start thinking you know what’s going on, you kind of hope you’re wrong. But “Speak No Evil” soon reveals that you were in fact right, and its final act reaffirms your own suspicions in truly indescribable ways. Once the final act begins, it’s too late to look away or back out, both for the viewer and the Danish family that soon realize their politeness has put them into the depth of literal hell with no escape. And it is here where “Speak No Evil” truly sets itself a part as being one of the most brutal final acts of the year. It is violent, chaotic, and just downright nasty. Tafdrup wants you to feel every single horror in excruciating detail, and delivers some unflinching camera work and shot compositions to make sure you don’t miss a thing. And frankly, you kind of wish you did, because the images created will sear into your brain and stay there whether you want them to or not.
Without breaking into any spoilers, I need you know that “Speak No Evil” portrays violence against children. It is crucial to the story, and Tafdrup isn’t going for shock value regardless of how shocking the violence ends up being. But I need you to understand what you’re getting into, and truly decide wether or not that’s the kind of thing you’re willing to sit through. “Speak No Evil” purposefully lulls you into a false sense of security, allowing you feel unconcerned with the first two acts until it suddenly devolves into depravity. It is as inviting as the Dutch couple, and continually gaslights its audience to stick around and assure you that everything will be okay and you’re safe. But you aren’t, and “Speak No Evil” becomes a psychological earworm that transforms into unfettered brutality, the likes of which you probably aren’t ready for but were prepared to be caught off guard.
I can’t necessarily recommend “Speak No Evil” to everyone, as it is definitely not made in any kind of universal vein. But for those of you that crave depravity and unforgettable horrors this spooky season, then I would highly recommend putting “Speak No Evil” on your list this month.
I mean, you wouldn’t want to be impolite, would you?
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
“Speak No Evil” is currently streaming on Shudder. You can watch the trailer below.