Some horror movies fit the genre because they’re filled with adrenaline-inducing chase scenes with deadly weapons, monsters that lurk under the bed, outside your door, or in your dreams, supernatural beings that possess, maim, and kill. Some horror movies fit the genre because they depict horrific events that would destroy you mind, body, and soul – and are all the scarier because the scenario is not so far fetched. Speak No Evil, directed by Christian Tafdrup and written by himself and his brother, Mads and part of Shudder’s 61 Days of Halloween line-up, is one of the latter.
Speak No Evil is a Danish and Dutch subtitled psychological horror thriller where one couple of each nationality (Patrick and Karin – Danish, Bjorn and Louise – Dutch) meet at a resort on vacation in Italy and hit it off. Patrick seems a bit overzealous with the way he compliments Bjorn’s fatherly act of hunting down their daughter Agnes’ misplaced stuffed rabbit and Louise’s pescatarianism – but Scandinavian people are known for their kindness, right? Some months later, Patrick and Karin invite Bjorn, Louise, and their daughter Agnes to visit them and their son Abel at their home in the Dutch countryside. Louise thinks it’s kind of a weird request, as they barely know them, the vacation was months ago, and she didn’t like them that much to begin with. Bjorn wants to go, and at a dinner party with some friends, convinces Louise they should.
From the get-go, Louise doesn’t feel comfortable with the situation. First, she doesn’t like that Agnes’ sleeping arrangement is the floor of Abel’s room, then, Patrick keeps giving her meat even though he learned in Italy that she’s a pescatarian, and then there’s this strange dinner and subsequent unpleasant drive home. They even try to leave, Bjorn placing all of the reasons on his wife’s objections, but they are convinced to stay by the smooth talking Danish couple who play on their insecurities, also using their quiet son (he has a speech impediment due to his underdeveloped tongue) who cries himself to sleep every night as emotional manipulation because he is just so enamored with their daughter Agnes.
The takeaway from Speak No Evil is always trust your instincts
Had Bjorn trusted Louise’s instincts and she stuck to her guns, the couple would never have gone on vacation to the home of people tantamount to strangers. Had Louise insisted on leaving when she KNEW they should, the movie would have ended without ever even being a horror movie. To Louise’s credit, there is a growing sense of unease throughout the entire movie – partially due to the mismatched soundtrack where the score doesn’t fit with the actions on the screen. Even the most mundane gardening task seems sinister. Of course, no one listens to Louise, and the couple stays for one more fateful day, and even before the worst happens, they know they’ve made a HUGE mistake.
The Scandinavian reputation throughout the world is that they are compassionate, accommodating, and generous people. That doesn’t mean that they don’t know how to make a horror movie with one of the most grotesque and disturbing endings that I’ve seen in recent memory. The filmmakers know this too, as there is complete silence as the first of the credits appear on the screen. However, this is another one of those movies that is relatively tame, until it isn’t. People who want to be on the edge of their seat from beginning to end will not enjoy the way the movie builds suspense through the discomfort and awkwardness that develops throughout the Dutch couple’s stay and only delivers the horror in the last fifteen or so minutes. The filmmakers do this so brilliantly though, I was squirming by the time the hammer dropped, and sat in stunned silence for awhile after the end credits rolled. Speak No Evil will do that to a person.
Speak No Evil premiers on Shudder September 15th.
Is violence against children a line that shouldn’t be crossed in horror movies? Let me know in the comments!