Christian Tafdrup, Compliance, Craig Zobel, Force Majeure, Funny Games, Michael Haneke, Nick Schager, Ruben Östlund, Speak No Evil
Do you remember that time when the kids were young tweenies and you took the family on holiday to a resort hotel or a caravan park or a rented villa in a warm country close to the sea? You and your partner were ready for a break, needed some time off, and were determined to enjoy yourselves before resuming the busy life of developing your careers, paying off the mortgage, and nurturing the children?
Do you recall the casual friendship you developed with the young couple more or less your age, with kids more or less your kids’ age, who sat at your table in the hotel, or next to you by the pool, or were parked next to your caravan and invited you to join them for a barbecue, or who you met, casually, in a restaurant one evening. Everyone was very relaxed; the chit-chat was light and friendly with many genuine laughs; your kids and their kids got on well together and looked out for each other allowing you to relax more than usual; religion, politics and other contentious topics were kept distant in the conversations; alcohol flowed freely but not excessively.
You enjoyed getting to know them and over a few days or more, developed a friendship that made it seem as if you had known them forever. You joined them on excursions to nearby attractions and to the shops. Or just arranged to sit together at the pool, drink a few beers or glasses of wine, chat endlessly about trivial things, and let the world go by without your intervention.
At the end of the holiday, contact details, hugs and air kisses were exchanged and earnest promises were made to keep in touch and, maybe, if the distance was not too great, visit each other sometime in the not-to-distant future?
And then, when you returned and restarted your busy lives, the memory of those days on holiday receded and, after a while, even the names of your holiday friends were beginning to fade.
Do you remember?
Well, now, what would you have done if, three months after the holiday you received a letter or email or even a telephone call from your holiday friends containing an invitation to join them in their home for a long weekend? How would you react? Would you accept or politely refuse, fobbing them off with some work-related or sick-child excuse? ‘There’s a world of difference meeting people in their home environment compared to a holiday environment,’ you would say to your partner, ‘and, when you think about it, we don’t really know them – you know, know them like we know Bill and Kate whom we’ve known since we were both kids at the same school.’
But what if you were tempted to accept the invitation? If you are curious about what might happen, watch Speak No Evil, the 2022 movie directed by Christian Tafdrup. In the movie, a Danish family – protective Louise, people-pleaser Bjørn, and early tween delightful Agnes – on holiday form a holiday friendship with a Dutch family – friendly Karin, assertive Patrick, and early tween mute Abel – and, three months after, the Danish parents receives a postcard from the Dutch parents inviting them to their home in The Netherlands. They accept. What happens next will put you off ever resuming a holiday friendship!
I’ll say no more other than to urge you to watch the film but please do not read any reviews or other descriptions of the movie until after you have watched the film. The common language between the two families is English.
If what I have written above intrigues you and motivates you to watch the film, read no further until your viewing is complete. Stop right here
To continue: I wrote these comments with the intention of adding Speak No Evil to the list of recommended films in my never-ending Movies for Movie Buffs series of posts but, retrospectively, decided it was better to post as a review. Speak No Evil is flawed; inextricably and fatally flawed.
The film is, for me, an excellent movie until the last 20 minutes. As an exercise in psychological horror, I can’t fault it, but the last 20 minutes are so unrealistic that it totally spoils the film. You are left with too many unanswerable questions about the behaviour of the Danish parents – why did they do this, why didn’t they do that, how could they not react when so-and-so happened, why did they accept their fate so meekly, why didn’t they run when they had the chance, why didn’t the father defend his family, why, why, why?
I checked the critics in case I had missed something or to see if there was a plausible explanation for what happened at the end of the movie. The review-aggregation website, Rotten Tomatoes, has 94 reviews, 18 of which come from what are termed Top Critics i.e., professional film critics who work for newspapers or social media websites. 16 out of the 18 Top Critics rated the movie fresh, the highest rating available. Take a look at their comments: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/speak_no_evil_2022/reviews?type=top_critics The plaudits are plentiful and seductive. Overall, the film scored 85% on the Tomatometer. That’s a respectable score.
In the reviews, I looked for a reasoned explanation for the way the Danish parents behaved during the last 20 minutes. Maybe a critic trained in human behaviour, psychology or psychiatry, could explain the reactions of the parents. The words compliance, civility, boundary crossing, the desire to please, conflict avoidance, and social conventions come to mind but I am not qualified to attempt a reasoned analysis. All I know is that the ending defied any explanation of why the parents did not react in the way they should have done. And I’m not alone. At the end of an insightful review, Nick Schager, film critic for the Daily Beast, says; “So skillfully does Speak No Evil build toward its madness that it’s a shame it can’t quite stick its landing. Bjørn and Louise’s fate is predictably nasty, but whereas director Tafdrup intends their climactic passivity to be a reflection of their timid and compliant-to-a-fault personalities, it instead comes across as stunningly nonsensical.” I fully agree.
Despite all these negative comments, I would still urge you to watch the movie. The build-up to the climax is first class with little incidents leaving you wondering where it’s all heading and the four actors who play the parents – Morten Burian, Sidsel Siem Koch, Fedja van Huêt, and Karina Smulders – play their roles to the hilt. If you are a fan of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (original German or subsequent American version) or Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure or the terrifying Compliance movie directed by Craig Zobel, you will enjoy Speak No Evil. Just disconnect your brain from your reactions during the closing stages.