The 48th Seattle International Film Festival continues, rain or shine, and for Film Inquiry’s second report, the focus is on two vastly different films – the Danish horror film Speak No Evil and the American dramedy Straighten Up and Fly Right.
Speak No Evil (Christian Tafdrup)
A slow-burn type of horror movie, Christian Tafdrup Speak No Evil takes its sweet time to build to its climax, with the only inkling of something going horribly wrong being the anxiety-inducing music. From the very beginning of the film, where a nice little Danish family of three is trying to enjoy their Tuscan vacation, the music (by Sune “Køter” Kølster) carries a seething tension and a reminder that, yes, even if everything seems benign, something is totally amiss.
During their vacation, the Danish family – Bjørn (Morten Burian), a very mild-mannered father, his wife Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch), and their young daughter Agnes (Liva Forsberg) – meets a Dutch family and there’s an instant connection, especially between and Bjørn and the Dutch father, Patrick (Fedja van Huêt). The families meet after Agnes has forgotten her beloved stuffed animal somewhere along their walk and Bjørn has retrieved it for her, retracing their steps a great deal just to make his daughter happy. Patrick praises Bjørn as a hero and from that moment on, Bjørn is smitten with the man, wanting his wife to connect with Patrick’s wife Karin (Karina Smulders) and for Agnes to become best friends with Abel (Marius Damslev) the Dutch couple’s quiet young son who doesn’t share his parent’s cheery disposition.
After parting ways and returning to their regular life, the Danish family receives an invitation to Holland for a weekend with their new friends. However, the trip slowly turns into the most passive-aggressive, uncomfortable stress test of just how much unsettling and ridiculous bullshit one can put up with, in the name of being a good guest and being as polite as possible. There are aspects of the film that reminds one of 1997’s Funny Games, with some of the dialogue harkening to aspects of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (either version) and 2008’s The Strangers – especially towards the end when everything comes into focus.
Overall, the film is reasonably scary (the one gory scene is stunning and will leave you speechless) and the acting is superb, especially between Burien and van Huêt, but the overall tone and outcome of the film leave much to be desired. Even when things go horribly wrong, the lead-up should at least feel a little satisfying. But maybe, that was the point all along.
Straighten Up and Fly Right (Kristen Abate, Steven Tanenbaum)
Absolutely enthralling and one of the hidden gems to come out of SIFF 2022, Straighten Up and Fly Right is about Kristen (Kristen Abate), a dog walker with ankylosing spondylitis (an inflammatory condition where one’s spine can fuse together over time), who has a real talent for writing but just needs a push from her new friends to pursue it.
From the moment we’re introduced to Kristen, we see that she’s stuck in a rut and that her life consists of old black-white-movies, not knowing whether she’ll receive kindness or cruelty from strangers, and paying her weed dealer to have sex with her. A good part of the film is Kristen’s rich inner dialogue and her sarcastic, pessimistic humor that undoubtedly helps her deal with the shitty, ableist world around her: She’s about to be evicted and there’s a neighborhood girl who says really awful things to her, among other things. The only thing that seems to brighten up her day is getting to walk some dogs.
It isn’t until she meets a new dog walking client – a man named Steve (Steven Tanenbaum) who also has ankylosing spondylitis – that Kristen’s life becomes more dynamic and begins to improve. When the two first see each other, Steve is surprised and pleased but Kristen is convinced that his cane and posture are meant to make fun of her. They eventually become friends and roommates and, as the film progresses, we learn more about Kristen through the friendships she makes and the encouragement that Steve gives her. While light-hearted at times, the film never falls into the category of cheesy and it definitely never becomes “inspiration porn”, an ableist genre that objectifies people with disabilities.
Co-written and co-directed by Abate and Tanenbaum, Straighten Up and Fly Straight takes inspiration from their real-life friendship and Tanenbaum‘s personal experience with ankylosing spondylitis, and it is evident in the film what a great duo they are – especially the scene where they write some rules for hugging since people always act so weird about hugging either of them. The film has crisp, dry humor and a real warmth that makes it one of the best films of this festival.
Both films were featured at the 48th Seattle International Film Festival on April 20th, 2022. Don’t worry, there’s plenty more coverage to come!
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