Can you ever really break through the civilized and social presentations each person puts forth?
This is the question at the heart of the film ‘Speak No Evil’ by Christian Tafdrup.
The film begins with a quick presentation of expected perfection, a beautiful holiday with a beautiful family. This beautiful family meets another beautiful, and charming, family and friendships are forged.
But what does that mean. Does a shared dinner create a bond. Do conversations portray the core sense of self?
And more importantly, how easily can these social niceties be exploited for nefarious goals?
In Speak No Evil, that answer seems to be, very easily. Trust is given based on the most surface and tangential elements. We assume the best, because we want the best.
The beautiful family comes home from holiday, receive an invitation from the other beautiful family to their remote home.
And of course they accept. Because this is that kind of movie.
And that, at its core, is why Speak No Evil never really achieves any answers to the above questions. It is why the thematic posit never receives any interesting additions. The film is a slow, plodding presentation of ‘be careful of who you trust’. And it stops there.
Everything that happens in the climax could have easily happened an hour before in the film’s running time. There are no layers of social examination. It just simply is.
Once we reach the second act, the film is just a scenes of a strange family continuing to do inappropriate and alarming things. There are no cracks in the veneer, the veneer is transparent.
It feels like the filmmakers lean so hard on the foundation of the horror genre, leaning on the visual and auditory tropes that dress so many films, that they neglected any real development or narrative. Horror is a container, it is a presentation of the darkest and most terrifying parts of humanity. It is not simply ominous lighting and jump scares.
So, while the question the filmmakers seems to be asking is an interesting one, the film itself never really takes the time to consider it. The film feels thin and strained, thematically stretched to fit a running time.
The finale wants to be shocking, wants to be disturbing, but it doesn’t earn it. The involvement of children seems emotionally manipulative and more than a little icky. Not because of their simple involvement, but because they feel like a shortcut to tension, a crutch for dramatic heft.
Simply put, it never feels like the film understands itself. It doesn’t understand what makes horror so effective as a genre. It feels like an impression, an approximation, a misunderstanding.
SUNDANCE 2022 REVIEW: ‘Speak No Evil’ Has Nothing to Say