Much like Don’t Breathe, the reverse-home invasion flick from a few years back, A Quiet Place takes the “don’t make a sound” sequence found in most horror films and stretches it to feature length. Unlike Fede Alvarez’s quick-burn thriller, which uses the novelty of the concept to great effect, John Krasinski’s take on it pursues a more artful approach — one less interested in delivering in the moment shocks (of which there is no shortage), and more interested in burrowing into the viewer’s mind, latching onto their sense of safety and wrenching it into oblivion.
So effective is A Quiet Place at creating such a feeling that it needn’t give us any exposition to get us up to speed, even though it’s operating off of a supremely high concept. In a world where sound can get you killed, communication must be boiled down to the necessities, a lesson which is not only practiced by the characters, but by the filmmakers as well. The real trick, however, is taking these bare bones communications and turning them into something deeper. Krasinski excels at giving us more from less, and the family at the center, as stifled as their conversations may be, bond in other more physical ways. Be it an sideward glance, a firm grab of the shoulders, or a deep set hope behind eyes overflowing with caution, the rule of “show, don’t tell” is being utilized on every level. Categorically, A Quiet Place is a “talkie,” but its deepest thematic weight and its purest moments of horror all come from the visual language of cinema.
The less you know about the plot, the better. So please take my description with a grain of salt. Personally, if you haven’t seen the movie, I’d skip to the end of the next paragraph. No, I’m not about to drop spoilers or anything, but I sincerely believe that you should go in blind. I did, and I’m happier for it.
Non-spoiler spoilers follow:
Our story occurs shortly after an unexplained manifestation of bloodthirsty creatures has presumably left humanity in shambles. These monsters track their prey by solely by sound. As such, the only way to survive is to live in total silence. After losing a family member to the creatures, the Abbott family ekes out a silent existence, working to prepare for a new addition to the family. Evelyn Abbott is just days away from giving birth, and babies aren’t quiet. Ok, that’s all you’re getting.
Non-spoiler spoilers over.
The most fascinating thing about A Quiet Place is that there’s no real inciting incident. One could pick a few moments here and there and be correct in saying “that’s where the shit started to go down,” but it would have to be a half-committed assertion. The fact of the matter is that the dawn of the film’s conflict — namely, however these creatures appeared — happens before the film begins. Short of a few newspaper headlines scattered here and there to build the world, it’s really not important. What we are watching for the bulk of the film is just the day-to-day life of a family that’s pretty good at living in silence. The thing is, life is noisy. Kids are noisy. Self-expression is noisy. And silence, despite being a vessel for peace, can be maddening in bulk. Throw young children into the mix, all of whom lived a life of sound until roughly a year and change before the movie begins, and it’s downright heartbreaking.
The script shows us just how noisy we are by including a bevy of typically audible activities which have been retrofit into silence by the Abbott family. A blood pressure gauge must be tied in place with a rag because velcro is a no go. The footpaths which must be traversed in order to go hunting and gathering is regularly topped with sand. Monopoly game pieces have been replaced with felt swatches. Any noise is too much noise. All I could think is that if this were to really happen, I would almost definitely die as the result of a rogue fart. Appropriate, really.
Maybe it’s because they’re great actors, maybe it’s because they’re actually a couple, or maybe it’s both, but John Krasinski and Emily Blunt feel like real parents. They wear on their faces the unyielding “anything to protect my family” love that parents describe as almost instinctual, and it’s this which fuels the aforementioned physically emotive nature of their interactions with one another. To see two people so deeply in love with one another, but unable to put it into flowery words is at times deeply upsetting, but it’s also affirming in that they don’t need to words. The love is there.
This extends to the children as well. It’s young Regan (Millicent Simmonds) who perceives herself as being on the outside of the family’s love, and it’s all because of the most kind-hearted mistake a child could make (I can’t say more). She understandably wants to be of more help to the family as both an act of atonement, and of a desire to do good, but she struggles with her potential for usefulness, given the fact that she is deaf, and thus perceives sound differently. Her little brother Marcus (Noah Jupe), is less interested in being useful. He is terrified. Being that he is able to hear, and will one day need to be “man of the house,” he reluctantly acts as an apprentice to Dad. Neither of these kids are able to really be a kid — to enjoy life the way a kid should — but they step up out of a very palpable sense of love and duty.
Mind you, these characterizations are all largely silent. Dialogue is minimal, and mostly in subtitled sign language. That’s no easy feat.
As a director, John Krasinski shows some SERIOUS skill. It’s not easy to sell a largely silent movie to mainstream crowds, but he pulls it off FLAWLESSLY. The combination of thorough world building, dense shot composition, and a minimalist score (complete with a single beautiful needle drop — one of the best of all time), brought the crowd I saw it with right into the setting almost immediately. While plenty of horror films will coax viewers into a vocal, reactive frenzy, A Quiet Place hypnotized everyone into silence. We were playing along. Even the shocking moments, or the multiple instances of Chekhov’s “insert item here” elicited, at most, breathy gasps. What is it like to live in a world where extreme caution is the pervasive norm? Where hair-trigger reactivity is a necessary daily skill? Well, I don’t know for sure, but the fear our heroes face is palpable.
What I’m saying is see this in the theater with a good crowd.
What I’m also saying is TURN YOUR GODDAMN PHONE OFF AND SHUT YOUR FACE, YOU CRETIN.
Yes, one guy in my theater got multiple texts notifications. Dude, it’s literally as easy as pressing one button. May your next meal taste like old mustard. I digress.
I won’t say much about the creatures, but the design rocks. They are not practical creations, but the CG has a weight and a presence that distances the design from artifice. Typically, the reveal on the creature is when many monster flicks lose their luster, but that’s not the case here. And man, these beasties are scary.
I’ll say it. A Quiet Place is a masterpiece. It not only announces Krasinski as a real talent both in front of and behind the camera, but furthers the recent trend of horror movies that tap into real emotional and thematic depth. This is, as I like to call it, a Movie Movie — every tool in the filmmaker’s kit is being used to full effect, and the care toward craft shows. Scary, intense, heartbreaking, and ultimately very hopeful, this is the type of horror flick that will appeal to horror hounds like myself as well as to people who tend to stray away from fright flicks. It ::clap emoji:: is ::clap emoji:: perfect ::clap emoji::
No sequels, please.
A Quiet Place is currently playing in Philly theaters.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.