While doing some preliminary research for my post-doc research application, I came across the startling fact that most rapists, murderers, and all manner of viciously revolting people (mostly men) rely on the very civility their actions are subverting to ensnare the victims.
I then realized that I’d seen this countless times, in countless films, and never connected the dot of politeness to the dot of death.
Perhaps the most famous example of this is in the movie adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs (1991). While Buffalo Bill is trying to trick his future prey into the back of his van, he doesn’t do it with puppies, or candy, or even at gun point. Instead, he makes himself look weak, puts himself in a position of distress, and appeals to her sense of humanity to trick her into scrambling into the back of his van. And, as many experts on kidnapping will tell you, once you’re in their vehicle, your chances of survival shrink rapidly.
Combine this notion of civility with the long held tradition of asking our children to look for a “mother and a child” if they ever find themselves lost, and we have the beginning of the plot for Christian Tafdrup’s Speak No Evil (2022).
What starts out as a simple euro-art house drama quickly descends into one of the most disturbing horror films I have ever seen… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s dissect the movie, here is Speak No Evil explained.
Speak No Evil Synopsis (2022)
While on holiday in Tuscany, BjØrn (portrayed by Morten Burian), his wife Louise (played by Sidsel Siem Koch), and their daughter (Liva Forsberg) find themselves approached by a Dutch family. At first this match seems appropriate, the two dads (Patrick – Fedja van Huet to Burian), two mothers (Karin – Karina Smulders to Koch) and the Dutch family’s son, Abel (Marius Damslev to Forsberg) get on quite well while enjoying the Tuscan sun and the ample offerings of Italian food.
Abel, however, suffers from a disease that has rendered his tongue too small to communicate effectively, a plot point with devastating consequences later in the film. But, all in all, the two families seem well suited and get on equally well.
So when Karin and Patrick invite Louise, Agnes and BjØrn to their countryside home in Holland, they think it would be rude to decline. For me, the habitual homebody, I had to suspend my disbelief a little here, because there aren’t enough slabs od Dutch cheese, or bottles of wine, or long, winding walks around the beautiful Dutch countryside that would convince me to spend a weekend with total strangers for the sake of politeness. That type of grabbing life by the balls doesn’t fly with me, but I digress. BjØrn, Louise, and Agnes take them up on their offer and then things get weird. And here is when you begin to start needing to have the ending of Speak No Evil explained, as you get into the spoiler sections.
SPOILER IN 3… 2… 1…
One of the first things we learn about Louise is that she’s vegetarian (well, pescatarian as Patrick points out bluntly, but that’s neither here nor there) yet Patrick forces her – and I mean force, because he knows fine well what he’s doing – Louise to eat a small piece of a meat from the wild boar he’s roasting. As Louise’s vegetarianism is rooted in environmental concerns, and not allergenic or moral ones, she has a small bite to be polite.
Karin and Patrick are also quite “rough” parents and subscribe to a form of parenting that borders on (and later qualifies as) abuse. Their snarky tone and aggressive demeanour begins to be laid on Agnes during their trip, a fact that annoys Louise more than BjØrn. A few more instances of this weird overstepping of boundaries occurs before it culminates in BjØrn and Louise making love while Agnes calls out to them.
Instead of leaving her to fall back asleep like any normal human being, Patrick and Karin take Agnes back to their bed, despite the fact that PATRICK SLEEPS NAKED! Were this any normal couple, this would have been the line that became a dot and made them evacuate the home, permanently. Cut that holiday short.
To their credit, BjØrn and Louise do take Agnes and leave, only to return to find Agnes rabbit teddy (which was under her seat the entire time) and be semi-guilted into speaking their truths about how uncomfortable they have been on the trip, and then manipulated (ish) into staying again.
I won’t go any further here, as this film meanders around its point like a lazy river at an American theme park. While you could argue that tension is being built in the first three quarters of the film, I found this portion a little boring to watch. However, those last fifteen minutes? Holy. Crap.
Speak No Evil Ending Explained
I mean it. Holy. Crap. What transpires in the last fifteen or so minutes of this film will never leave me. Never. It’s one reason that I qualified my “boring to watch” statement above as only a little because the false sense of security that Tafdrup deftly navigates you into is so wholly whipped away from you that you’ll be wishing you were watching a taut conversation between the two families again.
In what can only be described as Patrick and Karin’s version of a calling card (thing Home Alone and the ‘Wet Bandits’), we find out that this demented Dutch duo are not who they have pretended to be. Patrick isn’t a doctor, for starters, and they are both cold blooded killers as an entree. While BjØrn stumbles around an expository shot that shows how many families Karin and Patrick have duped, he comes across the body of their dead son floating in the pool. BjØrn immediately rounds up his family and tries to escape this holiday from hell only for two of the laziest tropes in horror to rear their ugly heads – no fuel and no signal. Patrick and Karin catch up with them and then the scene around which the entire film hinges happens.
Agnes, scrambling on her mother’s lap is held down by Patrick and Karin and her moth is wedged open. As BjØrn reels from a broken nose, and Louise is held back by a character we were told was a babysitter earlier in the film (who appears from nowhere and far too readily for my liking), Agnes’ tongue is teased out of her mouth and cut out – vividly – on screen beside her parents. Agnes is then removed from the car and reality hits the audience. Abel was never theirs. He was the child of a previous set of victims. His tongue, not lacking because of genetics, but instead to keep him from telling people what had happened to him. BjØrn and Louise are then taken to a quarry and stone to death.
I use the term calling card here because it is hard to understand what motivates Karin and Patrick. It is clearly not having a child, because they burn through a new child with each passing encounter, and treat those they take very poorly. Instead, I believe that the child becomes a tool to ensnare the next set of murder victims. That I think makes the most sense when trying to explain Speak No Evil.
Agnes was never the goal, BjØrn and Louise were. We are offered no insight into why Karin and Patrick choose to stone BjØrn and Louise to death, but we can see throughout the film the delight they take into manoeuvring them into uncomfortable situations and trapping them in their own politeness. BjØrn asks in a line reminiscent of The Strangers (2007) “Why are you doing this to us?” and Patrick tells him plainly, “Because you let us.”
The pleasure taken by Patrick and Karin is in knowing that they are killing only those that are offering themselves to them. The weekend itself is a test, peppered with little mini tests about how far they can push their victims into the realm of uncomfortability before they snap. The ugly truth of this film is that most people would rather be mightily uncomfortable, rather than appearing to be rude or ungracious. And that is fucking terrifying.
Last Updated on October 13, 2022.