Speak No Evil

Speak No Evil
Speak No Evil
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So as to calm the tension that nearly destroyed what appeared like their successful friendship, Bjørn (Morten Burian) and Patrick (Fedja van Huêt) go on a drive through an empty landscape where they vent out their pent-up aggression by shouting very loud. Feeling freed after this animalistic rite, Bjørn regards himself as being bonded with his friend; however, he is mistaken.

And while Sune Kølster’s unnerving orchestral score from the opening frames signals the subsequent episode of camaraderie, evidences of impending horror are noticeable much earlier—“Speak No Evil” is a dark shocker without any possible premonition.

The Danish film director and actor Christian Tafdrup, who co-wrote it together with his brother Mads Tafdrup, has created another movie about the male anxiety in Ruben Östlund’s “Force Majeure,” or Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games.”

They first met each other for several months ago in Tuscany where they were spending holidays with their families. Of all his earliest meetings with Patrick — a husky Dutch heartthrob —the one that impresses him best comes when he unironically compliments the Danes Bjørn on some act of bravery. The Dane’s feat: finding a plush rabbit that belongs to his daughter Agnes (Liva Forsberg). An ego boost from someone whom he respects right away puts a shit eating grin across Bjørn’s face.

Through Patrick’s casual self-confidence, Bjørn starts having platonic feelings for him. The mild-mannered Danish father of two boys and husband living according to societal norms finds in Patrick someone who does what he wants regardless of anyone else and freely expresses his thoughts; hence making him admire him even more. Back in Denmark though, Bjørn cannot get rid of the latent desire for leaving this passiveness that has awakened in him by his new friend.

The Tafdrups’ writing is impressively dexterous as it allows Patrick to infiltrate Bjørn’s vulnerable mind subliminally without using any obvious conversations or through gaslighting techniques. This toxic insidiousness only worsens with time as Bjørn heads to the Dutch countryside after accepting Patrick’s invitation despite initial resistance from his wife Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch).

Patrick, his energetic spouse Karin (Karina Smulders) and their son Abel (Marius Damslev) who cannot talk because of a congenital condition are met by the Danish family in an ordinary manner. At times you could easily forget that it was a genre, given the unshowy natural lighting used by Tafdrup and cinematographer Erik Molberg Hansen for shooting these scenes within the home reminding of social realism drama. No jump scares here, just awkward silences and telling looks.

It took almost no time at all for this Dane to show contemptuous disregard for him. The first time he does something like Patrick apparently ignores Louise being vegetarian while Karin orders Agnes not to sleep alone but rather share her room with Abel. However, initially there’s nothing overtly aggressive or offensive about anything the hosts do though. And so far the Danes have done nothing but let them be; they have never questioned them out loud neither walked away. It can hurt someone else’s feelings though or just be considered as rudeness against another culture which is why they put up with such behavior towards themselves.

Bjørn and Louise are trapped in a polite situation that should not have been accepted in the first place, but now they feel helpless as even more violations appear to occur across their borders. Nevertheless, Patrick and Karin’s mental game is about their fear of confrontation and that is why they prefer to remain behind even though we would be irritated by their choices. And although it might be frustrating for us watchers to understand from which point someone could say enough after accepting too much under such unclear conditions.

This verse from the Bible also gives a condition “be gentle and kind to all people”. However, this ritualistic following of an implanted code rather than acting upon instinct eventually irritates Louise and makes her partner aware of what is going on, although this awareness may come too late. Burian is depicted differently by Bjorn from loving him to hating him for a brilliant performance that ends in stunned silence.

But Tafdrup was able to obtain these kinds of nuances because Burian had an incredible range as an actor who was able to summon just the right emotion depending on what his character requires at any given moment—including some pretty terrible things. For instance, van Huêt portrays Patrick with a masculine image he can switch off anytime so as to become vulnerable when facing oppositions. This tempts Bjørn again because it appears like he can see himself through Burian’s impulsive bravery.

One might complain about how “Speak No Evil” takes up too much time without attempting to explain how Patric and Karin came into this position or kept up with it so efficiently, one flaw I have with Speak No Evil is its failure in giving me more details concerning how Patrick & Karin became like this- or maybe even better . Yet, Tafdrup may also have opened up possibilities for plot contrivances or simply giving away too much information prematurely.

The reason why “Speak No Evil” becomes such a riveting psychological exercise is basically due to the cunning way in which Patrick and Karin conceal their intentions till the end. Don’t expect cheap thrills or blood, sex and gore in galore because the intellectual alchemy does come off. When evil reveals itself, Tafdrup takes us through an unforgiving denouement that may be the most startling finale of any horror picture this year.

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