Trauma warning: Speak No Evil is very dark and will probably leave a mark.
Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch) and Bjorn (Morten Burian) are an attractive Danish couple on holiday, with their young daughter Agnes (Liva Forsberg). They happen to meet Patrick (Feja van Huet) and Karin (Karina Smulders), who are from Holland, traveling with their quiet son Abel (Marius Damslev), who is about Agnes’s age.
The two families have dinner together and promise to keep in touch.
Meanwhile, Sune Kolster’s musical score is erupting with sinister and ominous trumpet flourishes all over the place, as if Max Cady had just been released from prison and wandered over from Cape Fear.
What is happening here?
Director and writer Christian Tafdrup is actually tipping his hand. My first assumption was that the overblown soundtrack was parody and meant to mislead or exaggerate a threat.
This is not the case. The brass barrage is meant to be a warning of impending danger to the characters, and probably the viewer as well.
Speak No Evil is an excruciating slow death of a thousand cuts. What at first unrolls like a comedy of manners—urban, Danish sophisticates spend an uncomfortably rustic weekend as guests of less civilized Dutch acquaintances— gradually reveals itself to be mounting torments of the damned.
“It’s perhaps a bit too long to spend with some people we barely know,” Louise offers sensibly.
“What’s the worst that could happen?” Bjorn asks a short time later.
This moment in time is played for (uneasy) laughs, but the answer to Bjorn’s question is a bottomless pit of micro-aggressions and red flags that culminate in a finale that is blistering, not only in the brutality it depicts, but in the utter hopelessness on the parts of Louise and Bjorn, who face a fate as grim as any I’ve witnessed at the movies.
Like Godard and Buñuel before him, Dutch director Christian Tafdrup has no sympathy for the bourgeoise.
Speak No Evil is not a cheaply made shocker. Tafdrup trains a razor-sharp eye on Bjorn’s smug boredom with middle-class domesticity as more than reason enough to seal their doom.
And what a dark little doom it is!
My advice? Never ever wonder out loud about how bad something can get, unless you want to find out. Or maybe you enjoy being punched in the stomach really hard.