SPEAK NO EVIL

★★★★

THE HOLIDAY FROM HELL

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
By Ashley Teresa
10th August 2022

Perhaps one of the most unsettling movies of the last few years, 'Speak No Evil' is a must-see for horror fans – or for those who feel like picking their nail beds raw with anxiety.

While on an idyllic Italian summer getaway, Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch, 'Krudttønden'), her husband Bjørn (Morten Burian, TV's 'Replay') and their daughter Anges (Liva Forsberg, TV's 'The Chestnut Man') instantly hit it off with Karin (Karina Smulders, 'Jackie & Oopjen'), Patrick (Fedja van Huêt, 'The Judgement', 'Soof'), and their son Abel (Marius Damslev, TV's 'Minkavlerne'), a Dutch family staying nearby. A few months later, it seems that Louise and Bjørn have left a real impression on the Dutch trio, as a postcard from the trip with an invite to Karin and Patrick's home arrives on Louise and Bjørn's doorstep. Anxious at the idea of being impolite, even if the trip feels a bit extreme given Patrick's odd nature and that the families barely know each other, Louise and Bjørn accept the offer. "What's the worst that could happen?" asks Bjørn.

'SPEAK NO EVIL' TRAILER

I'm an absolute sucker for 90-ish minute thrillers that delve into madness in the final act, and 'Speak No Evil' fits that description perfectly. The film takes its time showing its truly fucked-up colours, only revealing peeks here and there. Right from the opening scene, composer Sune Kølster is the MVP of the entire project, relying on an inescapably claustrophobic score of chaotic swells to build tension, even if the scene itself is innocent. I found myself covering half of my face with a scarf through many of these scenes, scanning every corner of every frame for a potential figure just out of sight and waiting for the other shoe to drop. Even if they don't know it, it's clear from the vibe alone that Louise, Bjørn and Agnes have made a grave mistake travelling to Holland.

There's an undercurrent of dramatic irony running through the entire film, causing awkward laughs from audiences as the relationship between the guests and their hosts oscillates between harmonious and hostile.

For all of 'Speak No Evil's' terrifying imagery and tone, there's an undercurrent of dramatic irony running through the entire film, causing awkward laughs from audiences as the relationship between the guests and their hosts oscillates between harmonious and hostile. Of course, many horror films live and die by the stupidity of their characters, and despite all the warning signs during Bjørn and Louise's trip, director Christian Tafdrup ('A Horrible Woman') pushes their dumb decision-making to the extreme, even by horror standards. It begs the question: is Tafdrup in on the joke? In numerous interviews, he has shared his difficulty making the film and his disdain for horror conventions, realising that an outrightly comedic format could only take his desire to dissect the pain of public politeness so far. Whichever way you cut it, it's the rare film that works as both a black comedy and a horror peppered with satire.

'Speak No Evil' plays directly into the horror tropes it holds in contempt, and takes it out on its audience in the nastiest (and best) way possible. Chances are you'll be too busy yelling at Bjørn and Louise to just go home to care about the tropes at any rate.

Looking for more Melbourne International Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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