Horror stories are filled with secrets. There are secret identities waiting to be revealed. Secret societies perform strange rituals that spell danger for the whole world. Sometimes the secrets are traumatizing events that were covered up to avoid trouble. Secrets are never kept forever. Someone eventually finds out what the secrets are. They seek out revenge or they fight to reveal the deep and disturbing behaviour. That struggle makes for a captivating tale of terror.
Don’t Speak was all about secrets bubbling to the surface. A group of twenty-something year old friends were hanging out on a boat when one of them cut his foot open on a piece of glass. They went to a sketchy nearby town to look for help. The houses were deserted so they headed inland. They found a large house on the island. The friends were then killed one by one as secrets about the island’s violent past were revealed.
If there’s one thing that brought Don’t Speak down, it was the characters. They were all annoying, bad people. They weren’t cruel or evil. They just didn’t care about anyone but themselves. Each and every character was a self-centered jerk. Most horror movies have at least one sympathetic character. Don’t Speak left that character out in favor of another person who didn’t care about their friends. It took away the impact of the deaths because there was no investment in the people. It took away any appeal because there were no interesting characters. By the time that anyone became likeable, the movie was over. The audience was supposed to care about them but there was nothing to care about.
The story of Don’t Speak was okay. It didn’t go above and beyond to be anything special, but it was a decent town secret type of legend. A man had killed his son and he was back to get the rest of the villagers. There was more to the secret that got revealed through a few twists and turns. The way that the characters learned about the island’s violent past as they tried to survive the precarious situation was well done. It may not have been the most mind-blowing series of revelations, but the reveals were at least okay.
One thing that actually felt fresh was the way that flashbacks were presented. It might not be the most unique method of telling the backstory, but it was an interesting artistic choice. The scenes looked like they were filmed, then run through a filter that made them into moving sketches. It was an artistic flourish that made what could have been boring exposition into an entertaining series of scenes set in the past.
We learned about what had happened on the island while getting to see the most interesting visuals of the entire movie. The flashbacks stood out for that reason and were easier to remember. When trying to figure out motivations, the way that the visuals stood out helped to bring the past back to mind, giving depth to what was happening.
That doesn’t mean that Don’t Speak was good. It was okay, and that’s about as far as it got. It’s not nearly the bottom of the barrel of horror flicks available. But it is reaching down into those depths. The movie is a child trying to swim to the bottom of the deep end of the pool, while the few good aspects were the life jacket pulling him or her back to the surface. There are good parts trying to bring the movie up.
The problem is that the life jacket was old, like the tropes in the movie. It was worn out, like the story. And it came undone at the end. The few good bits floated to the top and were memorable, but the rest went down to the bottom and never came back up. Most of Don’t Speak sunk, making for an underwhelming experience.