Speak No Evil taps into the awkwardness of human interaction and squeezes out all the horror to excruciating effect: Sundance Film Festival Review

Speak No Evil tells the story of a Danish family who are having a vacation in Tuscany, Italy. They meet a friendly and jovial family who are from the Netherlands. They both share common interests, they both have children the same age but most importantly, it is the polite camaraderie that they share that makes the shared company so enjoyable. Months later, the Danish family receive a postcard from the Dutch family, expressing their gratitude of the time they have spent together. The postcard contains an invitation to invite the Danish family to stay at the countryside home of the Dutch for the weekend.

Without a second of hesitation, the Danish drive the 8-hour trek to their home and are welcomed with open arms. But beneath the politeness likes something that cannot help but seem peculiar. While the Danish family swing back and forth in figuring out if the Dutch family are just unconventional, there might be something beneath the demeanour that may be far more concerning.

Speak No Evil is the latest film from writer/director Christian Tafdrup, who is best known for his acting filmography as well as his filmmaking work – notably his prior film A Horrible Woman. That film was best known for taking audiences into uncomfortable territory that borders on deception. In the case of his latest film, Speak No Evil is Tafdrup’s first venture into the genre of horror.

During his intro to the film, he mentioned that he was not a great fan of horror (most likely meaning that he respects the genre, but does not know much about it) but he liked to use the language of horror in his storytelling of Speak No Evil. While this may set off alarms in regards of filmmakers thinking they are above the horror genre, you can put your fears to rest.

Tafdrup manages to infuse unbelievable yet true human scenarios with cine-literate language and create a sinister piece of work that is sure to provoke and upset many. He manages to tap into the awkwardness of human interactions — when people try to hide their honest selves and project what is supposedly their best selves – and mine the drama and horror out of it or all of its worth. All of it is told through a slow-burn approach that lets the suspense gradually boil until it reaches the third act and it is well-executed thanks to Tafdrup’s assured directorial hand in letting the actors guide the way.

The duplicitous and hypocritical attitudes, the avoidance of conflict to save one’s own skin, the broiling tensions over conflicting ideologies – all of it is enacted by the fantastic performances from the cast keep the audience on edge, which leads to a shocking climax that Tafdrup lets the audience know that it is definitely a horror film. With striking homages to Funny Games, Oldboy and even Antichrist, Tafdrup honours the genre just enough for it to matter in both reverence and storytelling.

Speak No Evil is a gruelling, challenging and provocative piece of work that will haunt you as it blurs the lines between what is uncomfortably true-to-life and what is beneath all the figurative masks we wear when we proceed with our lives; all under the guise of keeping up with high social mores and self-validation.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Speak No Evil is screening as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which is being presented virtually between January 20th and 30th, 2022.  For more information head to the official Sundance page.

Speak No Evil has been acquired by Shudder and is set for release in North America, the U.K. and Ireland in late 2022.

Harris Dang

Rotten Tomatoes-approved Film Critic. Also known as that handsome Asian guy you see in the cinema with a mask on.

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