‘Speak No Evil’ Movie Review [Sundance 2022]: Politeness Makes for Disturbing Horror Fare

Speak No Evil is a fresh, clever social horror film drenched in dread. Writer/director Christian Tafdrup and co-writer Mads Tafdrup conjure up a story that seeks to make audiences cringe from satirical encounters but also fear what looms beneath the surface. Speak No Evil delivers on thrills, chills, and an intriguing satire on human interaction.

‘Speak No Evil’ brings vacation friends together

‘Speak No Evil’ Sidsel Siem Koch as Louise and Morten Burian as Bjørn sitting in car screaming
L-R: Sidsel Siem Koch as Louise and Morten Burian as Bjørn | Erik Molberg/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Bjørn (Morten Burian), Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch), and their daughter, Agnes (Liva Forsberg) enjoy a beautiful vacation together in Italy. They meet a friendly family in Patrick (Fedja van Huêt), Karin (Karina Smulders), and their son, Abel (Marius Damslev). As a result of their initial interactions, the two families quickly become vacation friends and enjoy each other’s company over cuisine and good conversations.

Speak No Evil follows Bjørn after he discovers a letter inviting him and his family to travel from Denmark to visit the Dutch family in southern Holland. The weekend initially appears to be a wonderful continuation of their previous vacation. However, Bjørn and Louise quickly find themselves caught in an increasingly uncomfortable situation as they try to remain polite.

Christian Tafdrup utilizes kindness and politeness as a manipulation tool

Speak No Evil draws firm lines between the two families. They stay in a small residence, but their language and customs divide them. The two couples often express pride in their heritage. Friendly conversation topics soon become sore subjects in how they are “doing things differently.” Tafdrup maintains a sense of duality through the languages the characters speak and the behaviors they exhibit.

Pleasantries and fake social engagement are the enemies in this social horror movie. They’re the elements that keep Bjørn and Louise in an increasingly precarious situation. Additionally, niceness and politeness are social tools that are often manipulated. Speak No Evil often plays with the power dynamics that are constantly in flux from one odd conversation to the next.

Tafdrups’ screenplay taps into social anxiety and the claustrophobic nature of extroverted human behavior. Nearly every conversation is filled with agonizing politeness. Potentially offending someone becomes a priority above all other potential issues, including personal safety. Speak No Evil feels like a horror movie for introverts who despise confrontation.

‘Speak No Evil’ is deeply unnerving

‘Speak No Evil’ Sidsel Siem Koch as Louise and Fedja van Huêt as Patrick standing behind her in the shower
L-R: Sidsel Siem Koch as Louise and Fedja van Huêt as Patrick | Erik Molberg/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Tafdrup’s Speak No Evil immediately commands the audience’s attention with Erik Molberg Hansen’s gorgeous cinematography. The landscapes’ natural beauty is constantly set up against Sune Kølster’s dramatic and dark score. Tafdrup pieces all of the pieces together into a picture that fills every element with dread.

The most impressive aspect of Speak No Evil is the consistent level of tension that lingers throughout the feature. It pushes Bjørn and Louise out of their comfort zone and makes the audience want to scream for them to just leave. However, this horror trope is the movie’s point. It has a dark sense of humor in its commentary on what humans are willing to give up in exchange for social composure and politeness.

Speak No Evil progressively builds awkward social tension while racking up the horror elements. The ending has no shortage of brutality, but it doesn’t entirely capitalize on theme progressions established earlier in the film. Tafdrup successfully incorporates these themes into a sense of closure, but it doesn’t really translate into the bigger picture of what the movie is getting at.

Speak No Evil vocalizes a refreshing new voice in horror with volumes to say about human behavior.

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