Sometimes the abnormal, the routine, the mundane could be more frightening than an arsenal of chain saws and axes. Especially when on a regular basis interactions grow to be uncomfortable — and perhaps even threatening. This fall, a handful of outstanding performances turn what, on the surface, appear to be psychological dramas into something truly terrifying. We asked the actors in “Speak No Evil” (due Friday), “Smile” (Sept. 30) and “Nanny” (Nov. 23) to debate the transformation.
Fedja van Huet, ‘Speak No Evil’
“I feel all and sundry has had the identical experience,” Fedja van Huet said in a video call from his home in Utrecht, the Netherlands. He was describing that universally creepy sensation when someone fails to read the cues — or chooses to disregard them — and gets somewhat too close. “I had it with the daddy of a girlfriend of my daughter. And I said, ‘Why do I feel so awful? Because any person went over your boundaries.’”
There’s plenty of overstepping in “Speak No Evil,” Christian Tafdrup’s terrifying dissection of social conventions, starring van Huet as Patrick, an electrifying Dutch tourist in Italy who, along with his wife, Karin (Karina Smulders, van Huet’s real-life wife), seduces an all-too-polite Danish couple, Bjorn (Morten Burian) and Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch), onto a hell ride.
The Tuscan sun seems to rise and set in Patrick once we first meet him, with Bjorn captivated by his easy magnetism.
But when Patrick and Karin invite the Danish couple and their daughter to Holland, Louise has misgivings whereas Bjorn is tempted. In any case, what’s the worst that may occur?
That’s when the squirming begins.
Patrick provokes the well-mannered Danes, who leave but then return — perhaps he’s simply eccentric — despite every cell in Louise’s body screaming, “Run!” Then there’s Patrick and Karin’s peculiarly silent son.
“Speak No Evil” is the primary horror film for van Huet, who was still in drama school when he was forged because the lead in “Character,” which won the 1998 Oscar for best foreign language film. He’s now shooting an Amazon series based on a young adult novel. That he’s the bad guy is all he would reveal.
“I’m considered one of the same old suspects in Holland; I’ve been blessed with plenty of work,” van Huet, 49, said. And yet he and Tafdrup had never collaborated before. “You don’t have any thoughts before since you don’t know one another. In order that’s fresh. That’s interesting.”
The night before auditioning for Patrick, van Huet read the script and realized that “Speak No Evil” was no mere psychological drama.
“I used to be somewhat upset, actually,” he said, laughing.
And while he sometimes had the urge to go sinister along with his eyes — he raised an eyebrow ever so barely, transforming his face from one you could possibly trust into one not a lot — Smulders had other ideas.
“She was like, ‘Don’t give it away, don’t give it away. Just be nice. Just be friendly,’” van Huet recalled. “‘That’s scary enough.’”
Sosie Bacon, ‘Smile’
Sosie Bacon hoped to do a horror movie, but not only any horror movie.
“I desired to do a great one and the best one,” she said in a video call from her home base of Los Angeles.
She found it in “Smile,” Parker Finn’s exploration of childhood trauma in a scary-clown wrapping.
Bacon is polished and hyper-confident as Dr. Rose Cotter, a therapist in a psychiatric hospital who numbs debilitating inner pain with work, the higher to atone for the wrongdoings of her past.
Then a patient starts screaming a couple of figure she will be able to’t unsee before breaking right into a diabolical grin and slicing into her own face. And Rose’s mask starts to crumble.
“I used to be drawn to the psychological aspect of it massively because human beings and their psyches and therapy stuff, I just gobble it up,” said Bacon, 30. “It was vital to me that there be this thing boiling under the surface.”
And sometimes on it. That tic where Rose devours her cuticles with increasing intensity?
“I also pick my fingers they usually bleed, like, loads so it wasn’t that difficult for me to go there,” she said.
Bacon lived along with her parents, Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, when she shot “Smile” on the East Coast, and a number of of Rose’s nightmares followed her off the set.
“My dad has been in a gajillion horror movies, but it surely wasn’t until after the movie that he was like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s the worst. The worst thing to do is to need to be scared in other ways,’” she said. “I used to be like, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ And he was like, ‘I just didn’t wish to damage it.’”
Sosie Bacon credits her stint last 12 months as a recovering addict opposite Kate Winslet in HBO’s “Mare of Easttown” for the offer of Rose, her first lead. “I used to be capable of make something of it and it had plenty of levels,” she said. “I feel that showed folks that I could really do it.”
Now she’s aiming for something lighter, like a buddy comedy perhaps. But the following time she ventures into darkness, she’ll prep with calming affirmations — and a reminder.
“What I’d say to someone taking over a horror movie is, ‘It’s not all fun and games.’”
Anna Diop, ‘Nanny’
“That was the best ‘yes’ I’ve ever come across,” Anna Diop said of taking over Aisha, a Senegalese domestic employee for an entitled Manhattan family, in “Nanny.” “I’ve known her my whole life.”
Aisha is laser-focused on saving money to bring her young son to Recent York, despite the fee to herself. Similarly, Diop’s mother, a Senegalese immigrant who worked as a babysitter and nanny, brought her circle of relatives to america when Diop was 5. (The Sierra Leonean mother of the film’s director, Nikyatu Jusu, did domestic work as well.)
“There are such a lot of parallels to my personal life that my mother’s story is indistinguishable in plenty of ways from Aisha’s,” Diop, 34, said in a video call.
Indistinguishable, perhaps, save for the inexplicable cracks that soon leave Aisha awash in a wave of madness.
Diop, who’s in Toronto to shoot Season 4 of HBO Max’s “Titans” as Kory Anders, a.k.a. the superhero Starfire, prepped for “Nanny” by color-coding every scene on giant corkboards in order that she could track the ascension of the horror seeping in.
“But outside of that, I approached it just as a human story,” she said, noting that she tried to maintain Aisha grounded by working from a spot of logic: Is her mind playing tricks on her or are these items really happening?
“It’s a lady who’s a mother who loves her child and who’s determined to do that one specific thing,” she added. “And the interior and external obstacles she faces in trying to try this is all my focus really needed to be about.”
Still, the day the movie wrapped, Diop returned to her apartment and sobbed, a release she hadn’t allowed herself while filming.
“I felt Aisha, throughout the story — and so many ladies immigrants can relate to this — was just holding it together because you want to get done what you want to get done, whatever other horror or trials are happening to you,” she said. “You simply power through. And that was me during it.”