Speak No Evil is bleak, potent horror that evokes feel-bad classics like Funny Games and Wolf Creek. Picked up by Shudder ahead of its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, this crazy little film is a slow-burn indie with a mind of its own. The haunting images of the movie’s final moments will no doubt latch onto the viewer with their furious mean streak, and stick in one’s mind well after the credits roll.
Two heterosexual couples with young children meet at a resort in Tuscany, one a Danish family and the other a Dutch family. Initially, they seem to get on quite well with one another. Dutch and Danish people have a lot in common, including having “the same humor,” and they just click. Back home, the Danish family receives an invitation for a weekend in the Dutch countryside. It would be impolite to decline the invitation, Björn (Morten Burian), a doctor from Holland, insists. His wife Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch), a vegetarian, agrees, and thus they travel together with their daughter, Agnes (Liva Forsberg).
This trip is no dream getaway. Patrick (Fedja van Huêt) is abrasive and argumentative; his wife, Karin (Karina Smulders), is cold and snarky; and their son, Abel (Marius Damslev), has been born with a condition called congenital aglossia (the absence of a tongue). Patrick is extremely disrespectful of Louise’s eating habits and heavily mistreats his son, Abel. Suffice to say, the mood is uncomfortable and rife with tension, and only grows more strained the longer the Danish family stays.
Getting nit-picky for a minute, I am not convinced that the ending motivation makes a whole lot of sense. Sure, one could justify it with a “because you were home” mentality a la The Strangers, but I did crave deeper explanation in terms of this narrative aspect. It also maybe takes a little too long to get into the so-called meat and potatoes of the story. I am certainly a fan of the slow-burn style (2012’s Hereditary is a perfect example of this), but Speak No Evil lacks the gradual payoff of the best in sizzlingly slow horrors. Still, this is a well-constructed film that mostly works. The juxtaposition of the two families against one another serves to emphasize the bizarre curiosities of the Dutch family, to the point that they seem almost alien in nature to the good-hearted Danish family. For those seeking a rich horror mystery, Speak No Evil may speak to them.
Speak No Evil debuted at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. It comes to Shudder later in the year.