A Quiet Place  – ★★★★
🤫 Silence never felt as terrifying as in A Quiet Place, a film that is truly scary, without appearing over-done.
John Krasinski’s dystopia A Quiet Place is currently on everyone’s lips, a horror that tries to “reinvent” the horror genre (if such thing is possible after Get Out (2017) and The Witch (2015)). Preoccupied with silence, A Quiet Place is about a family of four: father (John Krasinski), mother (Emily Blunt), and their two children (Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe), who are forced to live in complete silence because any loud noise can provoke an attack of aliens populating Earth. This clever horror has the theme of alien invasion as its touchstone, but then goes off in its own direction to become something more innovative and absorbing, largely thanks to its effective use of sound…or lack thereof.
The story starts eerily. One family is in some abandoned supermarket and they hardly make any sound. The intrigue here is this – what happens if any loud sound is made? The answer to this question is not long in coming, and we have our first tragedy. Writers Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and John Krasinski all said that they took inspiration from silent films of an era long past, and it is the fact that the absence of spoken word in this film makes for a completely different cinematic experience. Somehow, the attention is immediately on the visual components of the movie – and it is heightened. Directors of many silent films who were into suspense, like Alfred Hitchcock (silent: The Lodger (1927), Blackmail (1929)) knew exactly the golden contribution that silence can make to a story. Suddenly, without any sound, the most mundane shots are effortlessly effective in their inexplicability, and tense close-ups become even more so. In A Quiet Place, silence plays just that powerful role, making the film effective.
Comparisons are likely to be made with Don’t Breathe (2016) or even The Road (2009), but Krasinski specifically cited Alien (1979) as his inspiration. The creatures in both Alien and A Quiet Place look very similar, but whereas Alien relies on overt violence and horrible realisations, A Quiet Place is effective and intriguing in a way its characters “dance around” sound to stay alive, because it seems that any loud noise, rather than creatures per se, means certain death. Some logic does lack in the film, and there are some tacky “horror-jumps”, but all this are easily forgiven given the kind of a delicious tension that the film manages to maintain throughout. Such tension, definitely heightened by the rule to keep silent, is present not only in the scenes of near-death escapes, but also when the family of four is simply relaxing in their home, enjoying each other’s company.
With so much recent criticism directed at films that use non-disabled people to portray disability, such as Stronger (2017), it is great to see Millicent Simmonds (Wonderstruck (2017)), a deaf actress, convincingly playing the lead role of the non-hearing child of Lee and Evelyn. For Simmonds’ character, it must be doubly hard to orient herself in the world where creatures who pray by sound roam. This is because a non-hearing person may not even realise he or she is incidentally making a great amount of noise – until it is too late. Also, even for hearing people, an additional problem may arise, and silence for an average person may become unbearable after a prolonged period of time. In this film, both Evelyn and Lee can listen to music using headphones or sometimes talk normally near a stream of water, but, in reality, it would have been hard to be completely sound-isolated for very long. In fact, a common way of torture has always been sound-isolation in close confinements, and when time passes, even talking to oneself is unhelpful, with the result being that some people may experience auditory hallucinations so that their brain could “compensate” for their general lack of normal everyday sounds.
As for the rest of the cast, they are as perfect as they can be. Emily Blunt is no stranger to handling rifles or guns, see Edge of Tomorrow (2014) and Sicario (2015), and Krasinski is surprisingly good. Perhaps, the reason the family in this films seems so extra loving, close and devoted to each other is because Blunt and Krasinski are a couple in real life. Most tense scenes fall on the shoulders of Blunt, but she is also that one person from the cast who can handle them most expertly, having much experience. Moreover, for the characters, it is not simply the matter of fending off the monsters away from their property, because grief and pregnancy also come into play in the film and become large themes. Being pregnant and giving birth is probably the worst thing that can happen in an environment where sound is forbidden, because high pitch sounds are inevitable, if not from the pregnant mother, than definitely from her new-born baby.
A Quiet Place may not lay claims to originality, but it is remarkable, nevertheless. The makers paid attention to all the small details that often get overlooked in this genre, such as silences (big surprise!), pauses and chilling tension, which often can only be achieved given the right claustrophobic atmosphere. The film is an almost “complete horror package”, full of apocalyptic elements, unexpected tricks and unbelievable tension.