When you think of Denmark, horror movies probably don’t come to mind. But let’s put that assumption to rest right now with director Christian Tafdrup’s Speak No Evil which made its premiere at Sundance’s Midnight selection category on Friday night. In fact, the programers at Sundance had to only see this once to immediately add it to that line-up. No questions asked.
This will be the first genre entry for Tafdup (Parents, A Horrible Woman) and boy is it a doozy! Before I go any further, it has to be said that the final 15 minutes of this film is probably the most disturbing I’ve seen in recent history–and I write for a horror site!
But let’s start at the beginning.
Danish couple Louise and Bjorn are taking a nice summer holiday in Italy with their young daughter. The vistas are beautiful, the food is sublime and the strangers they meet are as nice as they can be. Especially Dutch couple Patrick and Karin who have brought their child, Abel, along as well.
The two families immediately hit it off and thanks to a gallant act made by Bjorn, it seems this friendship is the beginning of something special. Sometime later, after they return from their vacation, Bjorn and Louise receive a postcard from their new Dutch friends offering them a visit to their woodland home for a weekend of continued fun and bonding.
Adventurous and fun-loving, but also conservative, Bjorn and Louise agree to take them up on their offer and decide to drive the four-hour trip with their daughter. After they arrive, things are just as jovial as they ever were in Italy. The adults seem happy and the two children have taken an immediate liking to one another.
But, things begin to change as conventional Louise is immediately offended by some of the things her hosts are doing and saying. Conflicted with paranoia and intuition, Louise isn’t sure if she is just being unreasonable in her set ways or if she and her husband are being intentionally slighted. After all, Patrick and Karin are boisterous, show personal displays of affection to one another, and free-spirited. Louise is more conventional—shall we say—uptight and pessimistic.
I’m going to stop the plot points there. To tell you anymore would take away much of what this disturbing thriller has in store for you.
Tafdup serves up some awkward moments that might make you squirm a hole right through your chair. He allows his characters the freedom of stupidity while we shout at them from our seat. There’s a menacing pall draped over the entire narrative that will have you questioning who is good and who is bad, or if these people are just normal oddballs like you and me?
That even goes for the musical score. There are suspenseful orchestral needle drops and interludes that heighten as we spiral toward the finale. Composer Sune “Køter” Kølster gives us some Herrmann-esque chunks of intensifying music play that come out of nowhere.
As for the cast, Sidsel Siem Koch, who plays Louise, gives us a motherly performance that feels familiar but never derivative, while Morten Burian who plays her husband walks a fine line between being emasculated, but protective.
As for Karina Smulders and Fedja van Huêt who play Karin and Patrick respectively, they fiddle with their nuclear family dynamic and take it to places beyond social anxiety. These people are a wallflower’s worst nightmare.
With nods to Hitchock, and surprisingly Shyamalan, Speak No Evil is not elevated horror as much as it is boosted. It doesn’t take too much time to get where it’s going but the fun is getting there. It’s satirical in the way it points out people’s vices or even their inhibitions, but that final act is no laughing matter.
The final 15 minutes of this film is not going to sit well with a lot of people, both mentally or physically. That’s probably why Shudder has already bought the rights to it and I can’t say I blame them.
Speak No Evil is currently showing at the Sundance Film Festival 2022.
Here’s our review of Master which is also at Sundance this year.