The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Shudder] - SPEAK NO EVIL | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Shudder] - SPEAK NO EVIL

speak no evil review
A Danish couple accepts a Dutch couple's invite to stay at their home, with increasingly sinister consequences.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Christian Tafdrup

Starring: Morten Burian, Sidsel Siem Koch, Fedja Van Huêt, Karina Smulders, Liva Forsberg, Marius Damslev

speak no evil poster

Most of us who have travelled to foreign countries will be familiar with the idea of making temporary friends with fellow travelers, usually for as simple a reason as sharing a common language. Such brief relationships usually end with obligatory invitations to "come and visit us if you're ever in…," but nobody ever takes up such offers, and we assume they're made without an ounce of sincerity (well at least for Europeans, Americans usually genuinely mean it). In Christian Tafdrup's Speak No Evil, a holidaying couple decide to follow up their new friends' invitation, with disastrous consequences.

speak no evil review

While vacationing in Italy, timid Danish couple Bjorn (Morten Burian) and Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch) and their young daughter Agnes (Liva Forsberg) strike up a friendship with charismatic Dutch couple Patrick (Fedja van Huet) and Karin (Karina Smulders) and their young son Abel (Marius Damslev), who was born without a tongue and can't communicate verbally. Patrick and Karin make the obligatory gesture of offering a stay in their home in the Dutch countryside, and Bjorn and Louise are surprised when they receive a postcard several months later reiterating the invite.

"What's the worst that could happen?" asks a friend of Bjorn and Louise, who recall Agnes getting along well with Abel and decide a break might be just what they need. After all, it's only an eight hour drive away and aren't the Dutch just like the Danes? They both hate the Swedes for one thing.

speak no evil review

What follows is an increasingly unsettling comedy of manners in the vein of Ruben Ostlund and a brooding study of humanity at its cruellest ala Michael Haneke. Tafdrup impressively integrates both disciplines so well that we often find ourselves confronted with situations in which we're unsure whether we should laugh or be horrified. The film exploits subtle cultural differences between the Danes and the Dutch, and audiences of the latter persuasion may well take offence to some of the stereotypes employed (the classic Dutch stereotype of stinginess takes centre stage in one particular sequence). From my experience of both nations, Danes tend to be very like the Irish in that they go out of their way to avoid confrontation whereas the Dutch are actively confrontational and seem to actively enjoy needling and shocking others at every opportunity. That might sound like a broad stereotype, and it's just my take, but it's one Speak No Evil certainly backs up. As soon as Bjorn and Louise have arrived at their home, Patrick and Karin seem to go out of their way to make them uncomfortable. At first it's through subtle micro-aggressions, like ignoring Louise's pescatarian diet by serving meat, groping one another in front of the embarrassed Danes, leaving the kids with a babysitter who turns out be a middle-aged man and blaring the car stereo while driving drunk.

Despite Louise's insistence that they leave immediately, and even one foiled escape attempt, they stick around, largely out of a fear of offending their hosts. It's a scenario many of us will relate to, as we've all stuck around in awful situations because we didn't want to come off as ungrateful. Every time Bjorn and Louise summon the courage to confront their hosts over some offensive action, Patrick and Karin do a good impression of playing innocent, often putting it down to cultural differences. It's the desire not to come off as xenophobic that likely fuels Bjorn and Louise's inability to simply walk away from the scenario - the babysitter is an Arab, and Louise's reaction suggests she hates the idea of leaving her child with a man but is more worried about being accused of racism.

speak no evil review

For its first 80 minutes, Speak No Evil is a brilliantly played social thriller that will have your skin crawling. Some cultures may find Louise and Bjorn's inaction difficult to swallow, but as a fellow Northern European I could fully relate to their decision to attempt to bury their heads in the sand and hope it all blows over. What I couldn't relate to however was the turn the film takes in its final 15 minutes. All of the movie's good work is almost dismantled by character behaviour that I just couldn't accept. Take the kids out of the equation and I might have easily accepted Bjorn and Louise allowing themselves to be continuously bullied, but even the most timid of parents will turn into absolute psychopaths once their children are threatened. The full reveal of the extent of Patrick and Karin's evil equally defies logic, as there is no way they could get away with their actions in modern Europe. Many filmmakers have imitated Hitchcock, but too many ignore his warning that while much tension can be mined from a ticking bomb, you should never let the bomb go off. Tafdrup has constructed a ticking bomb scenario par excellence here, but when he detonates his metaphorical bomb, his film's verisimilitude is caught in the explosion.

Speak No Evil
 is on Shudder from September 15th.

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