Director: Christian Tafdrup
Cast: Morten Burian, Sidsel Siem Koch, Fedja van Huet, Karina Smulders, Liva Forsberg, Marius Damslev
Screenplay: Christian Tafdrup, Mads Tafdrup
97 mins. Not Rated.
In a year filled with great and intense new horror films, Speak No Evil is one that’s been bubbling just under the surface. Released to Shudder, it’s been a word-of-mouth film that’s been referred to as “the one that moves slow and awkward before going HOLY SHIT!” I’ll avoid the major spoilers, and we’ll break it down today.
Bjorn (Morten Burian, Loving Adults, Sons of Denmark) and his family are vacationing in Tuscany when when they meet a Dutch family also on holiday. They strike up a rapport and have a lot of fun together, and when they get him, they receive an invite out to stay with the Dutch family at their farm home in the Netherlands for the weekend. They decide to take them up on the offer, with Bjorn not wanting to upset anyone. Upon arrival, they discover that cultural differences aren’t the only thing that the two families disagree on. As the weekend develops, they find that they’ve arrived in a very dangerous and deadly place.
Director Christian Tafdrup (Parents, A Horrible Woman) seems hell-bent on crafting one of the most awkward films of all time. As the tension and dread build up, Tafdrup keeps cultivating anxiety that was almost too unbearable at times. His direction, combined with the excellent editing of the film by Nicolaj Monberg (Cold Pursuit, Riders of Justice) constantly keeps the narrative compelling while assaulting with all manner of discomfort.
Morten Burian is brilliant as Bjorn, a husband who just wants to make everyone happy, and as his wife Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch, Itsi Bitsi, The Day We Died) gets more and more frustrated, he just tries to keep the peace. As the situation becomes more concerning, he just looks the other way, trying to see the best in others. Even up to the ending, his inability to create conflict may just be his undoing.
I would say that the film unravels a bit as it nears the ending. I think I understand what Tafdrup is getting at with the final scenes, but it strained credulity. Bjorn and Louise’s reaction to what’s happening to them isn’t convincing at all, which only sought to frustrate me as a viewer that invested time into Tafdrup’s film. It isn’t enough to derail the film, but there were character choices that I didn’t believe in. I didn’t have a lot of problems with lack of clear answers, but I couldn’t get past some of the characters.
Speak No Evil is surely an unforgettable movie and another very interesting installment in 2022’s Horror Catalog. It’s got a wholly unique structure less-focused on horror but always building toward the horrific, and when it’s unleashed, Tafdrup’s film goes some shocking places.
-Kyle A. Goethe
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