A Quiet Place: A Silent Killer
So I guess the best horror movies now are being made by former comedy stars. I’m okay with that.
A Quiet Place is the third movie directed by John Krasinski, but it’s his first for a major studio and his first horror movie. And much like Jordan Peele’s acclaimed 2017 debut Get Out, it’s a film that demonstrates a clear knowledge of the techniques of the genre and how to make them feel fresh. It’s not as striking or provocative as Get Out, but it is unique, incredibly clever, and consistently scary.
In 2020, some time after an apocalyptic event, a family of four (Emily Blunt, Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, and Noah Jupe) live in constant danger of carnivorous aliens which, though blind, have an extremely heightened sense of hearing. To survive, they’re forced to live in silence, never speaking or making any sounds above a whisper while attempting to figure out a way to weaken these hunters. Of course this can only go on for so long, and soon accidents result in the creatures coming after them in their own home.
As you might expect from the premise but is no less impressive, A Quiet Place features very minimal dialogue. Almost everything is conveyed through visuals, body language, and sign language. And that’s really refreshing. The last movie I saw go to similar lengths was The Red Turtle, and it’s been years since a major wide-release film has taken that risk. It really uses silence to its advantage as well. The movie spends enough time setting up the quiet lifestyle of this family with such calm and only natural sounds that when something does make a noise, it’s a genuine shock. This helps make the jump scares in the movie effective and earned; and while there are a few cheap fake-outs and predictable frights, they’re not obnoxious. The films’ mood and unique style has such an impact on the suspense, that these moments aren’t bothersome at all.
A Quiet Place also knows the rules about monsters in horror. Aside from a very quick glance early on, it builds to the reveal of what the beasts look like, much like Jaws or Alien. In fact, the layout of the creature and the foreboding way its utilized in the story is especially reminiscent of Alien. The movie’s wise to introduce elements where sound is beyond the characters’ control too, that raise the stakes and increase tension terrifically. And it doesn’t feel the need to explain much. We don’t know anything about the aliens, where they came from, what happened to society, or how much the auditorily enhanced predators had to do with it. There’s confirmation of other survivors, unable to communicate except through Morse Code, but there’s no indication what the situation of the world is. We don’t even know much about the family, including their names. All it’s concerned with being, is a recognizable survival circumstance. To service this particular story we don’t need a lot of information -certainly not any that would surely have been near-impossible to incorporate into the narrative naturally.
All of the performers do a great job. Blunt as usual is excellent in her desperation, but Krasinski is more surprising as the rational survivalist. The two have excellent chemistry of course, being spouses in real life and together excellently convey the theme of parenthood and the instinctual protection of ones’ children. Noah Jupe, fresh off the lead role in Suburbicon, does well here as the anxious younger child. However, the stand-out is Millicent Simmonds, as the bold elder sister. Deaf in the film, as Simmonds is in real life, she has her own struggle; both relating to excruciating guilt, and frustration at her family underestimating her due to her handicap, which prevents her from hearing the monsters stalking them. It’s worth noting that the whole cast performs great lengths of sign language very convincingly.
This movie isn’t wholly dialogue-free, and one of the areas it does suffer in is in the few moments where there is talking, the commitment to not naming the characters leads to some awkwardness. Using only pronouns to refer to those not in the vicinity doesn’t feel familial, and you can tell the writers are trying to get around actually identifying these characters; it doesn’t come off well. There’s also a fairly major plot hole concerning the resolution and the solvent to the crisis being much too obvious. It’s exactly the solution I considered at the start of the movie, and one I’m amazed nobody on screen had thought of.
That being said, A Quiet Place is still a brilliant exercise in experimentation. The minimalism of dialogue allows for greater focus on more important aspects of horror, such as visual cues and use of sound (the sound editing in this movie is superb!). And it makes for a movie that is wonderfully suspenseful and gripping with a magnificent cast and some very skilful direction. Less is definitely more in this movie, and that’s what’s going to make it stick.