Synopsis: A Danish family visits a Dutch family they met on holiday. What was supposed to be an idyllic weekend slowly starts unraveling as the Danes try to stay polite in the face of unpleasantness.
Stars: Morten Burian, Sidsel Siem Koch, Fedja Van Huêt, Karina Smulders, Liva Forsberg, Marius Damslev
Director: Christian Tafdrup
Running Length: 98 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: One of the benefits of watching foreign films is getting a glimpse into other cultures that represent a different experience than your own. It allows expanding your reach beyond the confines of your borders, be it state or country. In comparison, while not a full-scale explanation of the intricate machinations of society, even the slightest of international features lends a viewer the potential to journey as far as their interest will take them. That gives Speak No Evil an added intrigue at the outset, a viewpoint of commentary from one country (Denmark) on another (Netherlands), although it quickly spirals out of control and becomes an unfair fight. What starts as a provocative dialogue about cultural differences devolves into an analysis summed up with brutal cruelty.
On vacation in Tuscany with their young daughter, modest Danish couple Bjørn (Morten Burian) and Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch) cross paths with outgoing Dutch pair Patrick (Fedja Van Huêt) and Karin (Karina Smulders). The Dutch duo has their son with them, a silent boy impaired by a hereditary condition that left him unable to speak. Throughout their vacation, the families become friendly, with Bjørn finding Patrick a fascinating example of a man balancing his family obligations with his interests. There’s a clear feeling the Danish couple is more buttoned up and square while the Dutch pair have a more fly-by-the-seat of their pants lifestyle.
After returning home, Bjørn and Louise receive a postcard from their new friends inviting them for a weekend stay at their house. Louise is hesitant about visiting people they hardly know, but Bjørn pushes her to accept, driven by the need to suck up more of Patrick’s energy and hoping it will rub off on his family. After arriving at their destination, the Danish family are greeted warmly but awkwardly by their hosts. The weekend is kicked off by a series of strange events that put Louise’s antennae on red alert. She can sense that something is off about Patrick and Karin, but Bjørn downplays it as her not being accustomed to the Dutch way of living and her more structured schedule.
Inconsistencies in the story their hosts told them in Tuscany further put an ominous cloud over the stay, leading to more misgivings and infighting. While most viewers would have hightailed it out of there long before the Danish couple gets wise, director and co-writer Christian Tafdrup manages to find ways to believably keep them in the company of these strange people until it’s impossible to change their minds. It’s here when Speak No Evil turns the temperature on its slow-boil from a simmer to scald, changing course in shocking ways. While I will speak no spoilers on what occurs, Tafdrup and his brother/co-screenwriter Mads Tafdrup concoct an evil third act that culminates in one of the vilest endings to a film I’ve seen in some time.
Here’s the deal. After doing my homework a little before and a lot after, I get why the ending is there and the point the brothers Tafdrup are making in including it. I think what it is saying is an interesting message, but most of the viewers that watch it aren’t going to do that same follow-up to understand the reasoning. Most audiences will take the ending for the horror show that it is, and no true lesson will be ‘learned’ at the end. For that stomach-churning reason alone, despite the nobly committed performances of the cast, I can’t wholly recommend the movie in any way. The most engaging aspect of the film is the interplay between Bjørn and Patrick, a relationship that is never as fully explored as it could be, especially concerning how the movie ends.
If you ask me if Speak No Evil succeeds as a horror movie, I agree that it applies the right amount of suspense and spiky tension we expect from this type of film. Every film has a line that it comes to and must decide to cross or hold, which is the difference between good taste and bad taste. Speak No Evil goes over the line at a crucial point, and that’s where it lost me as an audience member. Any message it was trying to send is drowned out by the primal scream of its final mean-spirited, humiliating minutes.