The polite, kind and considerate are forever at the disadvantage when dealing with boorish, brutish bullies. That’s the message in “Speak No Evil,” a taut, pitiless Danish/Dutch thriller that unfolds as a series of cringe-worthy moments, one right after the other.
Danish actor turned director and co-writer Christian Tafdrup (“A Horrible Woman”) serves up a scary send-up of “United Europe” in the form of a Danish family invited to spend a weekend with a Dutch family they just met on vacation.
Danish Bjørn (Morten Burian) may toast their new friends as “just like us…same humor, same culture,” unlike those damned “Swedes.” But we’ve seen a Dutch horror movie or two. We know the windmills-and-wooden-shoes folks have their “issues.”
Bjørn, wife Louse (Sidsel Siem Koch) and their little girl Agnes (Liva Forsberg) have been in their Tuscan resort just long enough to get bored with their fellow tourists when gregarious Patrick (Fedja van Huêt) and Karin (Karina Smulders) show up. Finally, they have somebody to talk to who isn’t obsessed with food, culinary classes and the like.
Great fun! Let’s keep in touch! Come visit sometimes!
Still, the postcard that arrives some while later surprises Bjørn and leaves Louise a bit taken aback, this invitation from foreigners, “people we hardly know.” But Bjørn won’t be denied his bro-time, and they’re off.
Family dynamics are strained a bit when Louise emasculates Bjørn by suggesting they only got there by GPS. But Patrick’s got his back. Parenting styles are always going to be at odds with one another.
It’s only when the guy’s boorish refusal to accept Louise’s vegetarianism and harsh handling of their mute son that the warning signs come out on Dr. Patrick. Everyone speaks English. Why do their hosts keep switching to Dutch, like some secret code? And that kid? He’s creepy AF.
Still, little confrontations about who disciplines whose child, sticking them with the check at dinner, unhealthy sleeping arrangements and the like have to be ignored or papered over.
Heaven forbid anybody think these Danes are rude! Maybe they should be. Perhaps they should listen to us, shouting at the screen — “Get OUT.”
Tafdrup’s film plays as nightmarish to anyone with real sensitivity long before it turns truly sinister. First Bjørn then Louise sticks up for these creeps, excuses their behavior. At least Louise has lines she’s won’t cross.
“I don’t find them that pleasant to be around.”
“Pleasant” falls by the wayside early. It’s everything beyond that which makes “Speak No Evil” grimly suspenseful and horrifically involving. If you’re sentient and have lived a few years on this Earth, chances are you’ve been in PG versions of this situation — unpleasant, bullying people trying to bully you into accepting their behavior, presence and company.
The acting is organic and realistic. People react to affronts and shocks the way the well-mannered often do, trying to see things from even the most irredeemable ogre’s point of view. Fedja van Huêt’s turn from flattery and charming to monstrous might seem abrupt, but Patrick’s unable to keep his inner ogre out of sight forever.
Tafdrup doesn’t let up the way most Hollywood horror writer-directors would. The universe doesn’t owe the polite anything resembling a happy ending. Will these well-mannered Danes get a clue?
You have to endure this cringe-fest to find out. Just make sure you “Speak No Evil” and “Deliver No Spoilers” after you do.
Rating: unrated, graphic violence, nudity, sex, profanity
Cast: Morten Burian, Sidsel Siem Koch, Fedja van Huêt and Karina Smulders
Credits: Directed by Christian Tafdrup, scripted by Christian Tardrup and Mads Tafdrup. A Shudder release.
Running time: 1:37