Psychological thrillers are seldom synonymous with viciousness. Usually, they are more content to shock with twists than actually twist the proverbial knife. Like another excellent panic attack film, All My Friends Hate Me, Speak No Evil catches you off guard. I didn’t expect the type of soul-crushing horror Speak No Evil offers. Few films have the power to shock and repulse an audience like Speak No Evil does. The French Extremism movies Inside and Martyrs come to mind. Funny Games is another that shares the same anxiety-inducing DNA as Speak No Evil. Perfectly paced and brutally savage, Christian Tafdrup‘s film rips your heart out and forces you to watch while it’s eaten.
There has been a lot of breath spent and keyboards destroyed after watching Speak No Evil. It is a disturbing, polarizing film that sparks outrage and anger in most who see it. Shudder has a habit of picking up these underseen gems and dropping them unceremoniously on our screens. This psychological thriller is unassuming until it is too late, much like the plight of our protagonist and his family. Speak No Evil is a study in contrast. The differences between the private and public personas we project, as well as polite acceptance and narcissistic consumption. The final act of barbarity is signposted if only our protagonists worried more about their lives than being polite. Here is why Speak No Evil gets under our skin and makes us all feel so icky inside.
Bjørn, Louise, and their daughter Agnes are on holiday when they meet another vacationing family. Initially, it seems lovely as the couple is fun and has a child about the same age as Agnes. But, little by little, things creep in that Bjørn and Louise largely ignore. The new couple, Patrick and Karin, are complimentary and full of jokes. So when they invite them to come to stay with them in Holland, Bjørn convinces Louise to take them up on it. The moment they arrive, however, things are different. The couple that was once attentive, flattering, and kind are now overbearing and strange. Micro and macro aggressions are everywhere. For example, Patrick only serves meat dishes and bullies Louise into eating them while simultaneously picking at Bjørn’s insecurities.
The ending of Speak No Evil
In the ruthless final act, Bjørn finally realizes the truth too late. With Muhajid, who(shocker) wasn’t a babysitter, Patrick and Karin have been killing their way across the country, taking one child after another and cutting out their tongue so they can’t ask for help. When the latest child becomes tiresome or can’t live up to their standards, they kill them and choose another family. Bjørn finds Abel dead and pictures of all the families that came before them. Armed with the information, he wakes his wife and daughter and tries to drive away. Patrick swoops in when their car breaks down, and Bjørn goes for help. Because Louise and Bjørn don’t communicate well, she accepts Patrick’s help. Unfortunately, it’s just one more bad decision.
Immediately Patrick reveals the monster under the mask, and things escalate quickly. Karin and Muhajid grab Agnes and cut her tongue out while her parents watch. Our passive couple is then driven away and stripped naked, where they are stoned to death. The biggest question is, why haven’t any couples fought back?
The danger of passiveness
Louise saw things in the house that never should have been allowed. She never talked to Bjørn about Patrick watching them have sex, his shower invasion, or about the naked sleeping arrangements. Bjørn, in turn, never told her about the dead kid or all the dead families’ pictures. Even with each other, they are superficial and polite. Simply sweeping something under the rug does not make it go away. Unfortunately, their indoctrinated subservient behavior positioned them to be controlled and gaslit. Confident, assertive couples would have communicated with each other and run far away regardless of how they looked. They would not have been bullied into taking the blame for inappropriate behavior.
This criminal trio relies on the civility of strangers. We have been indoctrinated to be polite. Speak No Evil is an indictment of toxic courtesy and passenger lives. Lousie takes pictures and lives in her head. Instead of living in the moment with her family, she hides behind a camera. She also has a habit of dismissing Agnes when stressed. Bjørn is a passenger in his own life. He longs to be a hero. He wants to be dominant and macho but can barely manage his existence. Patrick’s hyper-masculine behavior tested and groomed Bjørn to be the next victim. Bjørn was so enamored with Patrick that he overlooked many red flags. When he gets into the car with Patrick at the end, he is paralyzed by who he has always been. He would never fight back because he believes he is incapable of it on a fundamental level.
Some have read Speak No Evil as the condemnation of weak masculinity, but it goes beyond that, and to reduce it to a strong man who should protect women and children takes some of the teeth out of the violence. It’s not just about male toughness or the need to be outwardly polite. It is about the bias that we all have. That little voice that says nothing bad can happen. What you are feeling can’t be real. The normalcy bias is that part of our brains that prevents us from admitting the truth to ourselves until it is too late. Like cognitive dissonance, we reject what we see and feel because it is too outlandish to accept.
Speak No Evil is nihilistic. It is a void of inky blackness that pulls everyone who sees it in. You are left sad and angry and bone tired. The weariness stems from the multitude of bad choices and passive acceptances. Things didn’t have to end the way they did, and that is the heartbreaker of this film. There were so many decisions that could have saved them. At one point, they were away from the psychopathic couple. Even knowing something was wrong, Bjørn returned because he wanted to be a hero despite actively putting his family in danger. Every choice he makes is wrong.
The idea that the kind and the passive are vulnerable because of it is not new. Films like The Black Phone, Room, Silence of the Lambs, Room, and a thousand others are based on that premise. To only blame the victims is detrimental, though. Similar to The Strangers, who claim everything was done because they were home, Patrick tells Bjørn he allowed it either by circumstance, action, or inaction in this case. Patrick, Karin, and Muhajid are to blame. No one would need to run if there was nothing to run from. Predators will always have prey, so listening to your instincts is a must. Survival depends on it. The worst part is you get the impression that if Bjørn and Lousie had exhibited even the slightest amount of backbone, the outcome would have been so different.
Speak No Evil is currently streaming on Shudder.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.