Meeting strangers can be awkward and it is especially difficult to forge new friendships in adulthood. It’s always great when you can make an instant connection, but it can also be suspect. Strangers become friends and then even stranger friends in Christian Tafdrup’s Speak No Evil. Written by Christian and Mad Tafdrup, Speak No Evil poses questions of manners and boundaries. Speak No Evil features some brilliant performances and truly horrific moments. While on the surface, the film is a story about good times gone bad, but at its heart is about how much a people let themselves be violated for the sake of politeness.
Bjorn, Louise, and Agnes meet Patrick, Karin, and Abel in Tuscany. The families become instant friends and spend their vacation together. In fact, they hit it off so well that Patrick invites Bjorn and the family to visit their home eight hours away. Excited by the prospect of catching up with their friends, they jump at the chance to visit. On arrival, they discover that Patrick and Karin are nowhere near as charming as their Tuscany personas.
The stage is set for awkward encounters, passive aggressive interactions, and rising tempers. Tafdrup set the tone for the film by explaining he was not a horror fan, per se, but admired the use of horror conventions in film. With that in mind, there are some wonderful elements of the film that pay homage to horror staples. Loud foreboding music plays over idyllic vacation pleasantries reminiscent of the Kubric’s The Shining. Patrick, played by Fedja Van Huet gives an insanely wonderful performance. It’s over the top, but clever and unsettling.
Tafdrup admittedly confesses horror is not his genre of choice, and this might be where there are some disconnections in the storytelling. While the dialogue is always strong, there are some inconsistencies in character behavior, particularly with one family, that can raise questions. Despite this, Speak No Evil, is a fantastically disturbing horror film. Tafdrup said he wanted to challenge himself and I believe he succeeded. Speak No Evil is horror for a new era of sensibilities.
The Sundance Film Festival is online January 20- January 30. Tickets can be purchased and a full lineup can be found here.
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