Tuesday, April 19, 2022

SIFF 2022: 'Speak No Evil' Movie Review

couple screaming in a volvo
Don’t talk to strangers. It’s a lesson we learn as kids and it’s one horror movies take great pains to teach us again and again and again. You think you’re going to make new friends, but no, only bad things will happen. Case in point, Danish writer/director Christian Tafdrup’s Speak No Evil, a suspenseful tale of palpable discomfort and eroding social niceties that winds up vicious, nasty, and really, really mean.

 

Danish couple Bjorn (Morten Burian) and Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch) meet Dutch couple Patrick (Fedja van Huet) and Karin (Karina Smulders) on an Italian holiday. When they’re invited to their new friends’ idyllic country home for a long weekend, what begins as a pleasant family getaway deteriorates into something much darker. 


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On the surface, Patrick and Karin appear nice enough if a little over enthusiastic. But as the couples spend more time together, things grow more and more uncomfortable. Are Patrick and Karin just weirdos with no boundaries, or is something much more sinister going on? Are they intentionally picking at open wounds and pushing buttons or do they just not know shared cues?

 

The film crafts a slow, steady squeeze of second-hand awkwardness as the faux polite refinements wear away and the result is the visceral stew of aggrieved masculinity, passive aggressive parenting barbs, and inelegant interactions that’s incredibly unpleasant. Which is the point and it's impressively unsettling as you squirm, on edge and embarrassed and for these people uneasily grinning through red flag after red flag, unwilling to say boo.


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Speak No Evil doesn’t turn full-blown horrific in the true horror movie sense until the final act, but until then Tafdrup takes the opportunity to painstakingly twist the knife. The actors sell the discomfort and self-consciousness of not knowing these people well enough to be open and honest. 

 

A looming, ominous score from Sune Kolster punctuates the narrative, booming over otherwise innocuous moments creating a sense of dread and impending doom. The script touches on an underlying strife within Bjorn and Louise’s relationship, and his general dissatisfaction with his life. But those themes, while more prominent in act one, evaporate after that, taking a backseat to the thorny, skin-crawling friction of the burgeoning friendship.


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In the end, Speak No Evil goes to some dark, mean-spirited places. Until then, however, it’s content to soak in a the bourgeois chill of domestic norms, intense anxiety, and a foreboding awareness that something terrible is going to happen sooner or later. [Grade: B]

 

Find our 2022 Seattle International Film Festival coverage here.




1 comment:

Gaia said...

Great article!