ON IN CINEMAS
A Quiet Place (2018) directed by and starring John Krasinski
The sound of silence
This horror-drama is set in an apocalyptic America which has been invaded by vicious human-eating creatures who hunt purely by sound. Our protagonists, the Abbot family, led by father Lee (John Krasinski) and mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt), are forced to survive by living in near-silence by tiptoeing around barefoot, and by communicating via a mixture of whispers and sign language. Even these survival plans, however, are not infallible, as seen from an early sequence where one of the sons, Beau (Cade Woodward) is taken from them after activating a noisy battery-operated toy.
The film follows their struggles to survive along with the inevitable family relationship difficulties, especially between Lee and daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds). To further complicate matters, Evelyn is expecting to bring another child into the world.
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Part of a horror renaissance
As with the likes of Raw and Get Out, A Quiet Place is part of a recent critical renaissance in the horror genre. While it’s not quite a perfect film (there are a few overly contrived moments which arise as it progresses - I detail these further into the review), it’s still an impressively original piece of nerve-shredding cinema.
Perhaps its most notable feature is that, with the characters largely deprived of the medium of speech, there is a heavy emphasis on visual storytelling. It’s a film rich in small, telling background details, be they the elaborate makeshift living conditions of the farm where the family lives, or the wealth of press clippings covering their wall which allude to the nature of the alien menace which hunts them. Some impressive use is also made of landscape shots, one notable example being a night-time pan around Lee lighting a fire to signal other survivors - who, themselves, are represented by other fires being lit up some on the far horizon.
The acting throughout, involving heavy use of both facial expressions and American Sign Language, is touching and believable. The family dynamic here is one of the most effectively-realised that I’ve seen in a long time, thus making it hard for the viewer not to root for their predicament. Despite both directing and starring in the film, John Krasinski (who is married to co-star Emily Blunt) sidesteps any temptation towards egomania by dividing focus quite evenly among all four main performers here.
The calm before the storm
However, to suggest that the film’s impact derives entirely from the admittedly impressive visuals and largely silent performances would be wrong. The sound design here is equally notable, mixing lengthy periods of quiet with startling use of both ambient noise and sudden jumps. The calmly-restrained and delicate ambience of the quieter scenes provides an effective counterpoint to the shocks which inevitably follow. One of the finest and most poignant moments comes courtesy of a waterfall, whose wall of noise allows two of the family members a brief moment to raise their voices.
The horror scenes themselves are well-orchestrated and genuinely suspenseful, bringing to mind Ridley Scott’s original Alien at times. Similar to that film, the creatures are often half-glimpsed in dark backgrounds, turning them into an almost subliminal presence. The later moments become a string of excruciating setpieces, such as when father and son attempt to distract one of the monsters via fireworks or the children start sinking, quicksand-like, into corn in a hopper.
One of the few small flies in the ointment here is the occasional reliance on contrivance. The classic example of this is a glaringly and rather improbably-protruding nail in the steps leading up from the cellar. If the characters walk around constantly on bare feet in order to survive, they would, realistically, know to check for such irregularities. The film’s closing shot also veers a little too near to cheesy cliche territory. However, these minus points are par for the course for most horror films and only serve to highlight how the rest of the film exists in such a superior realm to the bulk of the genre.
Indeed, as I sat in the cinema, I was startled by how unusually quiet most of the audience themselves were. While many brought their obligatory huge buckets of popcorn in, very little munching was heard after the film started. If there’s any kind of testament as to how effective A Quiet Place is, then this is it. Now, was that really the name “Michael Bay” that I read when the end credits rolled - or was I imagining it? (Yes, a quick check of IMDB reveals that Mr. Bay was, indeed, the executive producer.)
Runtime: 90 mins
Dir: John Krasinski
Script: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, John Krasinski
Starring: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cade Woodward, Leon Russom