Creepy children are a fertile source for horror film plots, and there are some classic movies in that particular sub-genre. But Speak No Evil can't quite do what's necessary to make it work. It has all the right ingredients, but everything is just a bit off from where it needs to be, providing a disappointing cinematic experience.
Anna (Gabrielle Stone) is a single mom who still likes to have a little fun. She's constantly fighting with ex Dale (Mario Guzman) over their daughter Joey (Olivia Cavender), and so when Joey mysteriously disappears one night, while Anna's distracted "playing" with her semi-regular boyfriend, she immediately assumes that Dale has taken the child. But when every child in the town goes missing the next day, they realize that something else is going on.
The town goes into hysterics, and the local preacher thinks the devil is involved and they all need to pray. Things get weirder when the kids all suddenly return, but now they're… different. Joey appears to be the only one that's been injured, with a particularly disturbing mutilation. And then the children begin to get violent. Are they possessed by a demon? Signs point to yes.
This sounds like a film that I could get into. This is an intriguing premise, and the desert setting adds to the outré charm. It should be very cool. But somehow, it's not. And it's difficult to pin down exactly why. The performances are all competent, but slightly off. A touch too hysterical, or a shade too dead pan, or just barely missing the emotional level they should hit.
Everything in the film is this way. It's obvious they had some budget, and the production values are quite good. There are cool possession effects, with levitation and blood vomit and everything. The effects and makeup generally are well done, and there are more than a few cool visuals. But then again Annie keeps going back and forth with Dale, from hating him and telling him to go away and trying to keep him from Joey, and then going back to him a few hours later begging for his help. This switching back and forth seems to be without motivation or reason. And there doesn't seem to be any real motivation behind the crazy pastor and his son, or their oddly obsessed flavor of Christianity. As far as crazy Christian cults go, they are both anemic and bloodthirsty. As far as showing deep insights into human psychology, the film is weak sauce.
The pacing is confused and plodding, when it didn't have to be. It's almost as if writer / director Roze was making it up along the way, and didn't really decide on where he wanted to go until toward the end. And there are some curious aesthetic choices made. At one point, several of the possessed children have been brought to a community center, and the townsfolk are having a hard time controlling a particular young woman. For several minutes she thrashes around and screeches in an almost unbearably annoying manner. It was almost physically painful to listen to, and went on for a very long time. Why on earth wouldn't you work with a sound designer to make that scene less awful for the audience?
This is all to say, Speak No Evil is less than the sum of its parts. The good performances, interesting visual style and above average effects can't overcome the muddled plot and surges of annoyance. Rent this one.