SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! Siblings Christian and Mads Tafdrup co-wrote the clever thriller Speak No Evil (Gæsterne). Christian Tafdrup also directs the film, so, suffice to say, it’s a passion project. Does that passion translate to a satisfying viewing experience or viewers left out in the cold?
Bjørn (Morten Burian), his wife Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch), and their daughter Agnes (Liva Forsberg) are having a great time on their summer holiday. While the Danish family is traversing Italy, they meet a family from The Netherlands — Patrick (Fedja van Huêt), Karin (Karina Smulders), and their son Abel (Marius Damslev). The two families instantly hit it off, and a short time after the summer has ended, Bjørn receives an invitation to visit the other family in The Netherlands.
Everything seems normal upon arrival, though Patrick insists on feeding them a lot of meat, despite Louise being a vegetarian. But soon, red flags begin to surface, such as Patrick just walking into the restroom no matter who is already in the shower, Karin’s telling Agnes specifically how to eat and how loud to chew, and their exacting demands of perfection foisted upon Abel. Is this a simple case of cultural misunderstandings, or is there something sinister underneath the facade of good times?
“…red flags begin to surface, such as Patrick just walking into the restroom no matter who is already in the shower…”
There wouldn’t be much of a movie if there weren’t something more to discover. The fun of Speak No Evil is trying to figure out what that is and then experiencing its shocking conclusion. The final 20 or so minutes are so tense and filled with unsettling dread that audience members will be on the edge of their seats the entire time. Of course, if the two families weren’t so well written and those watching were not invested in their fate, such a finale wouldn’t be possible. But the Tafdrups ensure that the central family is quite layered and that Patrick’s lust for life is so intoxicating that anyone would fall under that spell, even when he states that he “doesn’t believe in work.”
Everyone in the cast really delivers. Burian brings compassion with an underlying frustration to Bjørn that makes him easy to empathize with. Koch’s calm demeanor makes one think she’s passive, but once unleashed, the actor’s forceful voice becomes a thing to fear. Forsberg is delightful as the carefree, with an overfondness for a stuffed bunny. Fedja van Huêt is both charming and horrifying (see the drunk driving scene), while Smulders brings an authenticity to her role that makes one believe that maybe she’s not so bad after all. At first, Damslev is merely okay, though to be fair, he has little more to do than look sullen and apologize. But, once the living dance sequence happens, it becomes evident that the child really is an amazing actor, and he, by far, steals that scene from everyone else onscreen.
Speak No Evil is disconcerting and creepy, as the evil being faced by the primary family is all too real. Thanks to a smart screenplay, excellent, stylish direction, and an outstanding cast from top to bottom, the entire production will unnerve and shake up all watching. While the ultimate reveal is a little easy to figure out, that is hardly enough of an issue to bring down the intensity and talent on display.
Speak No Evil screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
"…tense and filled with unsettling dread..."