A Quiet Place Review - Silence is survival in this emotional film about human fragility and the power of sound
It is crazy to think just how many times a day we make sound. When we do the dishes or make our beds. As we walk across hard-wood floors or turn a key in a car. Slurping and crunching as we eat. Even tossing and turning in our sleep. Every time we move. Every breathe we take. Every word spoken. Now imagine those actions, from the tiniest cough to the loudest clang, meant that you could be torn to shreds in a matter of moments. It’s enough to make you catch your breath, right? Sit up a little straighter, eyes wider, more alert? Well, that is the beautifully simplistic premise behind John Krasinski’s new horror/thriller A Quiet Place (2018). The tagline little more than ‘If they hear you, they can hunt you’. And it’s about as disturbing as you might think, with The Office (2005 – 2013) alum masterfully directing, starring-in and even co-writing the script to this unsettling and menacing take on a creature feature.
The film’s premise is easy to follow, throwing us into a world where blind, armoured creatures with super-hearing skills have taken over, leaving humans to survive only by their silence. We follow the Abbott family, including Lee (John Krasinski) and his wife Evelyn (the actor/director’s real-life partner Emily Blunt), as well as their three children, who communicate using sign language and are ultra-vigilant of ever making a noise lest they be killed. If it were an easy feat though the film wouldn’t amount to much of a horror piece, so mere minutes in we are left with the tragic consequences of an all-too-easy sound slip-up. But the real-kicker comes as we jump forward in time and find Evelyn not only pregnant, but due in a matter of days. It’s a confronting premise, bringing a baby into such a constrained and unforgiving world, not only because of their innate noisiness and unpredictability, but for the ethics of the bleak future that awaits it. And there-in lies the heart of the film - a family uncompromising in their desire to survive no matter the losses that may await them.
In a film with less than 50 lines of dialogue (give or take), sound obviously plays a key role, drawing us into the Abbott’s world and putting us on edge with every click, chirp or buzz. It’s a colossal undertaking and the editing team use every trick in their book to make the lack of noise and dialogue an intense and involving show. There’s not a moment to be bored or a yawn to be stifled during the slick 90-minute run-time. Never have I heard an audience so silent and still, as if their own sounds or breaths could cause harm. Beyond that, A Quiet Place (2018) is imbued with layer upon layer of depth, the audience at times also granted the chance to experience the desolate world through the ears of child Regan (played with complexity and maturity by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds), whose hearing impairment opens up a whole new terror to think about. Every detail has been carefully crafted to create suspense and foreshadow events to come, from a stationary blue truck to rockets, and even light globes strung across the cornfield. And while it’s fair to say that not everything about this new world is easily explained away (imagine trying to remain quiet with an oncoming sneeze or grumbling stomach), those behind the camera have done their best within the film’s limited scope.
Visually the film also excels, with Krasinski turning to close-ups to deliver the emotional impact of the situation where words can’t. We see the Abbott’s fear as we hear it, and long, long before the pointy teeth of the monsters ever arrive. The actors respond phenomenally too, as they cycle through their various emotions. Blunt provides a powerhouse performance and is in perfect form as the unit’s grieving-but-determined mother, while Krasinski imbues great sadness as the devoted patriarch. But equally important are the performances of the children, including a terrified Noah Jupe as son Marcus and brilliant turn from Simmonds as the young daughter longing for independence. Each shot has a soft glow hanging over it, as if imitating dusk, which strips the scenes back as our characters are. But in this dying world there is also profound elegance to be found - you just need listen to the wind whispering through the golden cornfields or the water whipping over the rocks at a waterfall to see there is beauty, even amongst the bad.
The true hero here though is Krasinski, who shines with just his third stab at directing a feature film. Keen not to play by the rules of classic horror, instead he uses what made his second picture – the dramatic comedy piece The Hollars (2016) - so successful, by making us care innately about the characters and the gravity of the situation befalling them. If your heart doesn’t hurt from the sacrifices made here, then maybe you aren’t watching properly. Too often horror is associated with little more than masks, sharks, slashing and screams. But its fundamentally more frightening to have to contemplate death before experiencing it. And to face an enemy you can’t comprehend and whose weakness is just as mysterious. Krasinski taps into that fear with ease, giving hints to the monsters’ appearance before the big reveal, and leaving no more than a few meagre newspaper clippings as clues to where the beasts came from or why they are there. If he has learnt anything from horror films of the past, it is that the denial of information can sometimes be much more powerful than anything we ever see on screen.
What sets A Quiet Place apart from those genre pieces that have come before, is the shear humanity of our survivors. A girl who believes she neither has nor deserves her father’s love. The heartbreak of a mother who wishes she could take one moment back. The fear of a boy who is forced to contemplate the macabre realities of death daily. And a father, who would do anything to protect those he loves. There is more heart here than most dramas. And more stress than any action piece could provide. You’ll feel like you’ve run a marathon by the time the closing credits start to roll. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll feel like there’s still a lot to be said in the silence.
Rating: 4.5 Quiet Krasinski's out of 5
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