Is it ever possible to be too polite? The obvious answer should be yes, but sometimes being impolite is easier said than done. Society is set up in a way where, at a young age, we are taught to be nice to strangers, keep a smile on our faces, and say yes without hesitation. But when is the right time to stand up to pleasantries? How do we define our own boundaries without society defining them for us? Children are not taught this, but should you show any parent Speak No Evil, the new Danish horror film from the mind of Christian Tafdrup, they might reconsider the ways in which they raise their kids, not to mention the ways in which they conduct their own lives.
The film is about a Danish family who meets a Dutch family while on vacation. They have lunch together and get along nicely, but they eventually go their separate ways. However, shortly after saying their goodbyes, the Dutch family invites the Danish family to come and visit them, and the Danish family, being the nice people they are, accepts their invitation. The Danish family had no good reason to decline other than the fact that they are basically strangers, but the frightening musical score we hear very early on in the film lets the audience know that this will not be the pleasant getaway they had hoped for.
While visiting, the Danish family is given many clues as to why they should pack their things and leave. The Dutch parents have abusive tendencies in the way they treat their child, they ignore the dietary needs of the vegetarian Danish wife, and the child of the Dutch parents lacks a tongue, which the Dutch parents say is due to a real medical disease called “congenital aglossia.” What exactly is keeping this Danish family there? Well, the Danish family doesn’t want to be rude. That’s about it.
Speak No Evil has no supernatural elements in it. There are no ghosts, there are no demons, and there are no possessions. The only thing our main characters are haunted by is their incessant need to be polite. As humorous as this sounds, and it certainly is funny at times, it’s also what makes this movie so unbelievably scary and oftentimes uncomfortable.
Bjorn (Morten Burian), the father of the Danish family, is the most complex character in the film. He is insanely incompetent at navigating social situations, so much so that it honestly made me sad. He’s a character whose life is almost completely out of his own hands. He frequently hangs around people he doesn’t like, he is always helping out his wife (Sidsel Siem Loch) and his daughter without ever getting anything in return, and he finds himself unable to protect his family in the direst of situations. It is also Bjorn’s kindness that leads to some of the most anxiety-inducing moments in a film I have seen in a long time. It tore me apart.
What is so brilliant about the film is that all of the rude, uncomfortable things that the Dutch family does in this film are things that I could see real people doing. It takes a very long time for the Dutch family to start doing the violent acts that you’d only see in a horror film. We’ve all been around families whose parents yell at their kids, leaving us with the impulse to just get up and leave. Of course, we usually don't, but we’d really like to. I’d like to think that if I was in this situation, I would have left after the first night, but honestly, I don’t know if I would. Personally, I find myself avoiding confrontation as much as possible, and I am certainly not alone in this. I hate being mean to others and I hate being impolite.
The world is a dangerous place. People will try to take advantage of you, and if you don’t know how to stand up for yourself, you will suffer from it. Speak No Evil takes this idea and transforms it into a horror trope, making for a movie experience that will inevitably scare anyone who watches it into never letting their civility get the better of them ever again.
Speak No Evil is now streaming on Shudder.