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Review: Don’t ignore the red flags in ‘Speak No Evil’

A woman and man screaming from inside a car at night.
Morten Burien and Sidsel Siem Koch in “Speak No Evil.”
(Erik Molberg / Sundance Institute)

Politeness isn’t a virtue in “Speak No Evil,” it’s a fatal flaw. At least the kind of politeness that might cause one to ignore worrisome behavior in new acquaintances, and instead crack those warning signs up to cultural quirks or something that’s “not as bad as it looks.”

As Danish couple Bjorn (Morten Burian) and Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch) learn over the course of director Christian Tafdrup‘s slow-burn chiller, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

The covert creeps in question are a Dutch couple, Patrick (Fedja van Huêt) and Karin (Karina Smulders), who meet the Danes on a vacation in Tuscany and initially seem like easygoing vacation friends. Both couples have a single preteen child — the Danes have a daughter and the Dutch have a mysteriously mute son — a key factor in their quick bond. Bjorn especially hits it off with Patrick, their bromance suggesting new possibilities for the discontented father.

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A comedy of manners that leisurely develops into full-blown horror, “Speak No Evil” really gets moving when the Danes accept an invitation to visit their new friends’ house in the Netherlands. Louise finds the fast invite a bit suspicious, but a gung-ho Bjorn insists they give it a try. Once they arrive, no matter what they see, hear or experience — rude comments, bizarre behavior, appalling parenting, total disregard for dietary restrictions — there’s always some reason to justify or explain it away.

For a while it’s not entirely clear where “Speak No Evil” is going, although the ominous music, conspicuous title and chilly cinematography certainly point toward a dire destination. There’s more than a whiff of both Michael Haneke and Ruben Östlund to the proceedings, except the characters never emerge as fully as they do in the best of those filmmakers’ works.

What will really make or break “Speak No Evil” for each viewer is the third act, which literally bludgeons its worldview home in a grisly climax that descends into graphic mayhem. For some it will be the memorable icing on a new cult horror favorite. But those hoping for a more cerebral conclusion to the central conflict are more likely to feel as outraged as the protagonists do for ignoring the movie’s red flags and sticking with it all the way to the end.

'Speak No Evil'

In Danish, Dutch and English with English subtitles.

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Playing: Streaming on Shudder


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