Sundance 2022 – Film Review – Speak No Evil (2022)

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A lost toy rabbit becomes the catalyst for a meeting between a pair of Dutch and Danish families on an idyllic Tuscan break. Back home in Denmark Bjørn, Louise, and little daughter Agnes receive a postcard from their new friends Patrick, Karen, and their young son Abel inviting them to visit for a weekend at their Netherlands home.

At first, Louise is reticent about rekindling the holiday friendship but Bjørn is drawn to the charismatic doctor Patrick and sees an opportunity to broaden their social circle. Upon arrival, the visiting family begins to realise that their vacation buddies are unpredictable, weird, and quite possibly dangerous.

Director Christian Tafdrup set out to channel the sinister nihilism of Trier and Haneke into a realist social drama and sure enough, the results are as fucked up as you might expect. He also made a conscious decision with his co-scriptwriting brother Mads to go fully dark and make the viewer feel as uncomfortable as humanly possible. Again, the results are predictably nasty in this beautifully made, but thoroughly depressing and emotionally ugly arthouse flick.

By his own admission, Tafdrup is not a horror movie fan. In forcing his film through its uncompromising filter, perhaps without a true appreciation for its subtleties, he has fashioned a film that transcends its core creative influences in terms of bleakness. A debilitating post mortem of the rotten stains that blacken the soul at the hands of selfishness and Machiavellian peer pressure.

In constructing his movie thus, Tafdrup has arrived at, by accident or design, a degenerative co-dependant sister world to Katrin Gebbe’s hideous freakshow of the human condition Nothing Bad Can Happen.

Every scene in Speak No Evil seethes with unspoken oppression and spiteful deceit. Utterly swamped by genre tropes and techniques it never really feels like a family drama or satirical dissection of manners. Not for one second. From the opening shot, accompanied by an ominous blast of foreboding music, till the final heartbreaking frames it is pure creeping horror.

As the two families interact we are forced to bear witness to escalating incidents of social clunkiness, insidious mind games, and abject cruelty. Including one salacious restaurant scene that becomes so discomforting that it shoots straight to the top of the cinematic cringe chart. Seriously, you will bristle to the very bone with projected awkwardness.

At one point the beleaguered visitors become agonisingly close to the fresh air of freedom. Only to be thwarted by that fucking rabbit again. It is both hilarious and incredibly infuriating to watch them dragged back into the crushing orbit of invasive manipulation. And so continues the relentless rubbernecking of psychologically damaging social shenanigans.

The filmmakers have to be commended for their all-in approach to successful audience aggravation. With top-end sound design, pitch-perfect acting, and superb visual flare, it’s a long time since I saw a movie work so damned hard to be hated that wasn’t Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Of course, Speak No Evil follows its horror muse, and original self-imposed remit, to the bitter end with a final reel that blasts off from planet controversy and ends up somewhere in the stratosphere of unadulterated offensiveness.

It is not just the debasing and graphic nature of the denouement that draws bile to the throat and challenges even the legendary Plac zabaw for shock tactics. It’s the insidious realisations of the true agenda of Patrick and Karen that will be the virus in your movie memory bank. 

Fans of slow-burn feel bad flicks will need to look no further than Speak No Evil. A beautifully barren piece of high concept horror with a conclusion that makes the ending of  The Mist look like the closing number of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

★★★★

Horror Drama/Thriller | Denmark | 2022 |Rated.R| 1h 38 mins |Sundance Film Festival  | SHUDDER| Dir. Christian Tafdrup| With:Morten Burian, Sidsel Siem Koch, Fedja van Huêt, Karina Smulders, Liva Forsberg, Marius Damslev

Speak No Evil will be unleashed by SHUDDER in North America, the U.K. and Ireland in late 2022.

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