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"Speak No Evil" (2022): A Tragedy of Manners

Mike Grindle is a freelance culture writer with a love for film, music, and literature.

Fedja van Huêt (left) and Morten Burian letting off steam in "Speak No Evil" (2022).

Fedja van Huêt (left) and Morten Burian letting off steam in "Speak No Evil" (2022).

Speak No Evil (2022)

  • Director: Christian Tafdrup
  • Scriptwriters: Christian Tafdrup, Mads Tafdrup
  • Producer: Jacob Jarek
  • Cinematography: Erik Molberg Hansen
  • Genre: Psychological Thriller

Any good horror fan will have, at some point, put themselves in the shoes of the genre's many on-screen victims. And, when doing so, most of us like to imagine that we'd give those psycho killers a good run for their money. That we would run outside instead of upstairs, that we wouldn't trip over our own feet, and that we'd make sure that if the bad guy looks dead, he is, in fact, very much dead.

But would we really do any of this? Or would we freeze up with our placid, convenience-based existences only prepping us with good manners in the face of confrontation? You might not like to think so. But it's a possibility that Speak No Evil, a genuinely unsettling film from director Christian Tafdrup, forces you to comprehend.

An Idyllic Weekend Goes Awry

Red flags abound early when Danish couple Bjørn (Morten Burian) and Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch) meet Dutch couple Patrick (Fedja van Huêt) and Karin (Karina Smulders) while on holiday in Italy. Bjørn, for his part, seems somewhat infatuated with Patrick's bravado. But ultimately, it's politeness (read: an inability to say no) that leads the Danes to take their new friends up on an offer to visit them in rural Holland, with their daughter, Agnes (Liva Forsberg) in tow. And from there, a slow, excruciating-to-watch, imposing of wills begins.

Bit by bit Patrick and Karin push against the boundaries of their new guests, with Louise taking the brunt of the abuse. Yet the magic of the film is that it is the Danish couple, not the Dutch one, that will ultimately draw the brunt of your ire. For so quickly do Bjørn and Louise cast off their principles and instincts in pursuing politeness that they become impossible to respect. For instance, a couple of "I insists" is all it takes to get the vegetarian Louise to eat meat. And Bjørn's creeping admiration of Patrick's adolescent attitude underpins an apparent apathy towards his family's welfare.

Politeness Kills

Adding an element of mystery to this character study of sorts is the matter of Patrick and Karin's mute son, Abel (Marius Damslev). Yeah, I know, speechless children with secrets to tell are quite the cliché in this genre. But this poor chap's not so much tongue-tied as he is missing a tongue altogether. And his mistreatment at the hands of his distant parents (who seem more interested in the Danish family's daughter) makes for a tragic character.

The film's symbolism, which you may well be already piecing together, is a little too on the nose for its own good. Still, it's hard not to argue against its poignancy. And while you'll likely see the final "metaphors" coming, the manner in which they occur remains shocking. Indeed, it's the last act that will make or break this film for most viewers. But whether its gory conclusion satisfies or leaves you frustrated and depressed, you should brace yourself because, despite its slow pace, this one's quite the ride.

Worst car ride ever.

Worst car ride ever.

Keep Your Eyes Out For...

  • Bjørn and Patrick screaming it out over a barren landscape to let out tension, subtly revealing to the viewer a location "where no one can hear you scream"
  • Creepy kid Abel revealing his missing tongue to the hapless and understandably terrified Bjørn
  • The film's brutal ending that you need to go and see for yourself already
  • Karin boasting that the surprise babysitter she's booked to look after Abel and Agnes for the evening is "cheap"
  • The chemistry between real life married Dutch couple Karina Smulders and Fedja van Huêt (who play Karin and Patrick respectively)

© 2022 Mike Grindle