What is A Quiet Place?
On Earth, no one should hear you scream… The world appears to have been invaded, and its population decimated, by lightning-quick, vicious alien predators who react, and hunt, according to sound. After suffering a terrible tragedy, a tight-knit family, including a deaf daughter and heavily pregnant mother, hides out on their isolated farm, searching for fellow survivors and trying to figure out how the creatures can be defeated.
Silent… But Deadly
Lean and, at times, pretty mean too, actor-turned-director John Krasinski’s monster movie is brutally streamlined in high-concept devotion to relentless tension. As the film’s tagline proclaims, “If They Hear You, They Hunt You.” Without any preamble, a harrowing prologue throws us into ‘Day 89’ of a nightmarish dystopia, as our unnamed family of protagonists silently scavenges an abandoned town, looking for medical supplies. Turns out there’s good reason for the tip-toeing: when the youngest child naively fires up a battery-operated toy spaceship, he’s picked off before you can even countdown to launch.
This personal trauma hangs over the rest of the film, perhaps explaining why, in a climate where sound equals death, the parents (real-life couple Krasinski and Emily Blunt) choose to have another baby. Hardly the quietest of enterprises. In the meantime they’ve ingeniously adapted to a near-silent life, living mainly underground or lining paths to their farm with footstep-deadening sand. That they all know the sign language with which they communicate with their deaf daughter (deaf actress Millicent Simmonds, also in Wonderstruck) no doubt aids their cause.
Staying silent to survive stalking terror is a horror staple, even when taken to extremes as in Tremors, or famous Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode ‘Hush‘. And the film’s greatest technical strength is the inventive use of audio, both its presence and absence. From the very first scene, the audience is primed to flinch at any potential sound, no matter how minor. The prospect of creaking floorboards, objects accidentally dropped, and, of course, human screams, keep us in a state of heightened anxiety throughout.
Many scenes unfold without an actual soundtrack, and the minimalist approach is highly effective. Then again, Krasinski isn’t averse to suddenly ramping up Marco Beltrani’s screeching score at opportune moments, particularly for its (somewhat overused) jump scares. These work, but their conventional nature goes against much of the ingenuity shown elsewhere.
The best set pieces also take advantage of the film’s USP. The daughter’s inability to hear approaching danger, and, later, the advantages of her homemade hearing aid, are cannily exploited. And Blunt repeatedly gets the sharp end of the script’s torments, forced to swallow the agonies of both stepping on a floorboard nail, and even premature labour.
Let’s Hear it For the Monsters
At this advanced stage in movies, comics and games, it’s increasingly harder for pop culture to come up with original, yet still scary, monsters. Against all odds, A Quiet Place produces something admirably new. Without spoiling the design here, clearly much thought went into the concept of an aurally guided creature.
Sure, you need the teeth and claws that all good beasties thrive on, but it’s the little changes that make a big difference. Krasinski wisely hides his antagonists early on, suggesting that perhaps there wasn’t the budget (or imagination) for something fully formed to appear. Happily, that’s not the case; soon enough his cast and the audience get very up close and personal with the invaders. It gets loud.
All in the Family
Unlike certain other sci-fi invasion movies, A Quiet Place never prioritises alien action over human emotion. Krasinski and Blunt’s natural chemistry shines through, particularly in their rare intimate scenes together (there’s a lovely dance to Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon’ played on shared earbuds).
And the two rising child actors, Simmonds and Noah Jupe (Suburbicon) are convincingly vulnerable. In fact, if there’s a subtext to this story, it isn’t along the post-apocalyptic allegorical lines of numerous zombie outbreaks or War of the Worlds‘ activated sleeper cells; it’s more about parental fears and the dangers of an inability to communicate that we can all recognize.
Is A Quiet Place Good?
So good are the cast, so effective is Krasinski at eliciting maximum unease through smart framing and editing, and so smart the perils designed by him and co-writers Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, that the film’s flaws can really irk. The wider world and drip-feed of backstory aren’t all that convincing, and for a film so dependent on its central sound-driven idea, details are sometimes conveniently inconsistent.
But overall, such disgruntled whispers are drowned out by the talent involved bringing their A-game to an unabashed, adrenalized B-movie; one with a fist-pumping finale that, arguably, even recalls the genre’s most iconic screen mother battling to protect her species – Alien‘s Ellen Ripley. Now that’s something to shout about.