I had a big problem with “Speak No Evil,” but it’s not for the reasons you think. Yes, this is an unpleasant movie. Yes, it will be challenging to most audiences. Yes, it’s shocking. But this is a thriller where I was asked to suspend disbelief so much that it completely ruined the entire thing.
While on holiday in Tuscany, a Danish family [Bjørn (Morten Burian), his wife Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch), and their daughter Agnes (Liva Forsberg)] strike up a casual friendship with Dutch couple Karin (Karina Smulders) and Patrick (Fedja van Huêt), and their strange, creepy son Abel (Marius Damslev). A few months after their return home, Patrick and Karin send the family an invitation to come for a visit to their secluded country home. Craving a getaway, Louise and Bjørn accept, bringing everyone along for another round of rest and relaxation.
Things are perfect at first but grow increasingly uncomfortable as everyone starts to clash over everything from parenting to public displays of affection. Inappropriate behavior and emotional cruelty quickly causes an idyllic trip to turn into a brutal nightmare.
Starting with a great premise, co-writers (and brothers) Christian and Mads Tafdrup push their story as far as it will go. This will test the boundaries of most viewers, and it’s a distressing viewing experience in so many ways. The ending is shocking, but it feels like a manipulative set-up to be horrific just as a way to get people talking.
The problem with this film is that it’s not honest as to how any human being would actually act and react in a similar situation, and I say this with absolute, unwavering certainty. The first round of lost credibility happens after something really distressing occurs that causes Bjørn and Louisa to quickly gather Agnes and leave the country house in a hurry. But then they decide to return to retrieve an insignificant item that was left behind. I do not believe for a second that anyone would actually turn around and return their child to a clearly dangerous situation. This is the moment where I started to check out, but I pushed through and stuck with the movie.
The implausibility gets way worse.
There is a particularly distressing scenario where a family is being held captive in a car by people without any guns or weapons. They are not being held by force, and their hands, mouth, and feet are not bound in any way. They could literally open the car door and run. They could even at one point take the car keys and drive away. Yet the characters do nothing, they sit there and take it.
There is no way I believe a parent, especially a mother, would not fight to the death to protect her child. If a kid was in imminent danger, an unbound mom (or any human being, for that matter) would not simply scream and cry and hit the car seat, capitulating to her captors. She would fight back and do anything to save her little girl. I call total bullshit on this, and all the dramatic and emotional weight is stripped from the story because the characters act in such an unbelievable way.
The themes of morality and differing ideas of what’s right and wrong aren’t as significant or intelligent as director Christian Tafdrup obviously thinks, and most of the film feels like it was written for sheer shock value rather than social satire with a horrific spin.
It’s not easy to go along for the ride with “Speak No Evil” because it’s not honest to these characters (or how 99.99 percent of people would actually act). The film suffers greatly because of it.
By: Louisa Moore