Directed by Christian Tafdrup, SPEAK NO EVIL (2022) is a psychological horror film about a Danish couple that visits a Dutch couple for a weekend and discovers they’re in for social awkwardness and a possibly a whole lot more. I found it very well done though mean to the point of cruelty, part of a trend in nihilism in horror that I don’t particularly enjoy.
The film opens with Bjorn, Louise, and their daughter Agnes on holiday, where they meet Patrick and Karin, who invite them to visit them in Holland. Feeling bored and trapped in his life’s routines, Bjorn is eager to go. The weekend proceeds with fun but with increasing awkward moments where the Dutch couple show themselves as utterly free if passive-aggressive and the Danish couple probably too uptight. What might be a comedy of manners becomes a tragedy of manners as the Dutch couple reveal who they really are.
There’s a lot to like about this film. First, I should point out to anyone who doesn’t enjoy foreign films that most of it is in English, which is the common language the couples use when speaking to each other. The Danish couple is fairly realistic and likeable, and the manners aspect of the psychological horror is fairly well executed, as Bjorn loves Patrick’s apparent freedom from social conventions. The sense of dread builds well to the ending, which is horrific as the impulse to avoid social conflict extends to self-subjugation.
That being said, I just don’t enjoy nihilism in horror. Movies like THE STRANGERS, FUNNY GAMES, THE DARK AND THE WICKED. Watching people stripped of agency and cruelly brutalized, particularly when they’re the characters I empathize with, isn’t satisfying for me as a viewer. I’m also familiar with the trope of people making bad decisions in horror movies, but some of the decisions in this film beggared belief, as did how far manners dictated.
So overall, I didn’t quite enjoy SPEAK NO EVIL, but if you like the nihilistic brand of horror, you’d probably like this one.