Director: John Krasinski
Cast: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe
If there’s one genre that’s particularly difficult to convey to an audience in this day and age, it’s horror. We, as a populace, are numbed to the realities of horror by the realities themselves, where the lines are often so blurred that we can barely turn on the news in the morning without seeing something horrific and feeling like we’re watching a trailer for the latest slasher. Mix that with the sheer volume of attempts, both poor and admirable, at horror filmmaking and it all goes a short way to making us more and more disillusioned with the genre. But every so often a film comes along that reinvents or brings something new to the table and reminds us that horror is still one of the most worthwhile and entertaining genres. A Quiet Place has a unique story with some new and interesting ideas, but is it the horror we’ve been waiting patiently for, or is it just another subpar attempt to scare us?
Mostly set in the year 2021(ish), the film stars John Krasinski as patriarch Lee, a man who is trying to protect his family from unknown creatures that are blind but use their incredibly sensitive hearing to attack. The louder the sound, the more attracted they will be. Emily Blunt co-stars as Lee’s wife, Evelyn, who, after a quick time-jump near the beginning of the film, is revealed to be pregnant and nearing her due date. Along with Lee and Evelyn are their children, Marcus (Jupe) and Regan (Simmonds). Regan is deaf, and Lee spends a lot of his time working on hearing aids for her, none of which seem to work. Lee also works on building a radio transmitter which he uses to send out S.O.S signals to any channel he can, whilst also figuring out ways to make their home more soundproof, particularly with a baby on the way. Everything the family does has to be, as the title and premise suggest, as quiet as possible, lest they attract the attention of the huge, spider-like creatures.
Rather than follow a specific beginning-middle-end storyline, A Quiet Place is more of a snapshot in the life of this family as they do their best to survive in a world where humans are no longer at the top of the food chain. Krasinski directs as well as stars (and had a hand in the screenplay) and he does a mightily good behind the camera. Having just two other films to his directorial name, as well as three episodes of that for which he is most well-known, The Office (US), Krasinski continues to build on his repertoire by taking a risk and venturing into the horror world. Horrors are often at their most effective when there is a lack of an orchestral soundtrack and dialogue, and Krasinski has understood and utilised this to create something that has some of the most effective jump scares in a long time. Together with cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen, Krasinski’s choices in close ups and angles are, for the most part, spot on for building suspense and successfully shocking and scaring the audience. The occasional scoring (by Marco Beltrami) also lends a hand, as the creative sounds and music adds a lot to the tension building and often reflects the terror or resilience of the characters.
The performances are some of the best seen in horror in a long time, if it’s not too bold to say. Krasinski and Blunt make a very convincing married couple, and that’s probably because they are married in real life. This could make or break a production, but it absolutely does nothing but add to the positive conviction of the story. It’s also plain to see they are, in reality, parents themselves, as the way each of them are with and react to their fictional children is wonderfully natural and easily felt through the screen. Simmonds portrays a diverse character in Regan, likely on the brink of puberty, who has to handle growing up not only in this dystopian future but without the ability to hear. The same applies to Jupe as Marcus, who expresses a range that is rare amongst child actors (and adult actors, really). The pair of them are really ones to watch in their future endeavours. Krasinski’s work directing the young actors also brings out the best in them: they’re obviously talented youngsters but without the right director their performances could easily have been lost amongst the scare tactics. Fortunately Krasinski knows what he’s doing, and it shows.
Certain aspects of the film prove it to be a story that has been very carefully and meticulously thought out. Without revealing too much, Regan’s deafness is used as a plot device to great effect in numerous ways, and it’s done sensitively and with good reason (in reality Simmonds is deaf after suffering an incident as a young child). Sign language is the main form of communication, which is a great way to open the film up to those who are deaf or hard of hearing. The way the family go about creating as little sound as possible is also clever: using sand on pathways to mask the sound of their footsteps, not wearing shoes, sometimes using light to communicate. Their ways around dealing with a newborn baby are also very inventive. It’s all the sort of thing you’d have to think about when thrown into this kind of world. Of course not everything is perfect, there are some things they do or don’t do that are questionable (the use of fireworks at one point brings up an array of questions), but they are all forgivable. Between the story and the creativity of a lot of A Quiet Place’s aspects and plot drivers make it very sturdy overall and it holds itself up well. The run time of 90 minutes is spot on: any longer and it would have felt forced and overdone.
The creatures themselves, whilst fairly terrifying when we are given glimpses, aren’t the most original of creations. Their lack of sight and increased hearing is reminiscent of the Clickers in the 2013 video game The Last of Us and their physical appearance harks back to Cloverfield. Of course there’s really no such thing as a purely original idea these days, however something more original could have taken the creatures to another level. There tends to be something most terrifying about a creature that appears humanoid – it says something about how we perceive ourselves, as being the cause of our own destruction, so something along those lines might have been a more interesting route to take. Nevertheless, it doesn’t make certain scenes any less fearsome, when a loud sound is made or when a monster is sneaking into the background of a shot. The fear of the unknown, not knowing who or what these things are or where they came from, is an easy device to use in order to scare an audience, and in this case, it works a treat. We don’t know anything about these creatures other than what’s on the surface, and we masochistically like it that way.
A Quiet Place has managed to do what the likes of Insidious, The Conjuring and Sinister have struggled to do. Despite all being successful horrors in their own right (sequels and prequels excluded), they all lacked that extra something, perhaps the build in suspense or the relatability, that takes a horror from making an audience mildly uncomfortable to downright terrified. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what that extra ‘something’ is, but whatever it is, A Quiet Place has it. It’s not quite up there with the likes of Paranormal Activity (the first movie), REC (both first and second movies) or classics like The Thing and Hellraiser, mostly due to the creatures lacking some originality, but it makes a good case for the horror genre still being alive and well, with many directions still to be taken, and a lot of fear to instil in moviegoers.