I went to see A Quiet Place at Cineworld Birmingham Broad Street on April 5th at the 16.40pm showing. This may seem a strange way to begin the piece but I type this in some vain hope that the two people sitting directly next to me, who didn’t stop nattering to each other for the entire duration of the film (when not checking their phone or crunching popcorn), might end up reading this. The irony of having to tell people off for talking during a film all about the absence and power of sound is not lost on me. So if you are reading this, guys, thanks. For nothing.
The reason I bring this up is precisely because John Krasinski’s impressive third feature suggests that we are living in a world where, as a society, we have lost touch with the amount of noise we collectively make. People blast out music on buses with no regard for anyone around them, or in their cars for effect as they travel around; they shout at one another with little self-awareness of those around them; they talk during cinema screenings, as mentioned above, in what would be a serious code violation in the eyes of the gentlemen of Wittertainment (if not *the* biggest violation). Noise, and the pollution of it, is something we take for granted. Quiet or silence is at a premium in the modern world, hence why it’s such an original idea for Krasinski and co-writers Bryan Woods & Scott Beck to ask – what would happen if noise became deadly?
There are numerous ways this idea could have been approached but Krasinski goes down a well-trod route – the post-apocalyptic family drama, in which he plays Lee, the father of a small family who are surviving in a world where, at the slightest bit of noise, terrifying creatures appear out of nowhere and rip you to shreds. What are they? Where do they come from? The clues may be lurking in his picture but Krasinski never directly provides answers, primarily because it doesn’t really matter. They serve as an unnatural, antagonistic function to explore a world without sound – where people have to tip toe, talk in sign language, and crucially operate at a much slower, careful pace of life in order to, literally, survive.
The idea is fascinating when held up to, as I mentioned above, the fast and noisy pace of our modern world; in some bizarre way, the world where those who have survived the coming of these creatures is more serene, peaceful and beautiful. Krasinski may frame his movie through the prism of a tense, slow-boiling science-fiction drama but there is a sense he is suggesting more of a wholesome, family-orientated world such as this may not entirely be a bad thing. If you took the monsters away, of course.
A Quiet Place plays out a little like a neo-Western at times, particularly in Emily Blunt’s function as the quietly strong matriarch. In one of the most tense and memorable sequences of the picture, Blunt’s Evelyn has to give birth to a baby, alone, while trying not to scream as one of the creatures is stalking her in the house. Blunt gives a terrific performance here; at times she evokes stalwart American actresses such as Katharine Hepburn, particularly at the close of the picture where Krasinski really amps up the Western stylistics of his piece. It becomes a cross between John Hillcoat’s The Road and M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, if you can imagine such a thing, whilst at the same time feeling like a wholly original piece.
Krasinski & Blunt (married in real life, incidentally) are the adult anchors in a piece which, in many respects, is more about how the children in their brood react to the terrifying, silent world they’re being forced to exist in – particularly newcomer Millicent Simmonds as their deaf, eldest daughter Regan. The film in many ways is about her journey from child to woman, in the sense of throwing off the shackles of enforced femininity the protective Lee has placed on her, particularly thanks to her disability. Besides the textual and thematic ideas, this is where A Quiet Place shows its depth of field.
Throughout the movie, Lee is doing what he can to protect his family. Regan in particular he considers at risk because her hearing aid, which he is determined to fix, doesn’t work and she lacks the awareness of sound that could endanger her life. Regan is marked by the harrowing death of her youngest brother at the beginning—brilliantly staged to show the terrifying threat at work—which she considers to be her fault because she couldn’t hear and couldn’t save him in time. It is layered and complex character motivation Krasinski’s script doesn’t overplay but Simmonds sells superbly in a role without dialogue.
The crucial factor with Regan is that she’s smart and resourceful but Lee would rather try and encourage his remaining son, Marcus, to learn the masculine protective role he has fashioned – a role the sensitive boy doesn’t want and Regan does. This isn’t sexism, it’s part of the Western thematic trappings; the strong white man protecting the pregnant white matriarch in the old, American house surrounded by corn fields from the outsider, the ‘Other’. In this case it’s just monsters rather than ‘Indians’ or lawless brigands. A Quiet Place neatly inverts these traditional male & female roles, particularly in the face of danger, to strong and powerful effect.
Ultimately, beyond the carefully layered and constructed elements of characterisation or indeed the thematic ideas, A Quiet Place works because it knows where to place its jumps and scares, and importantly never puts them before the function of the characters or story. When your heart is in your mouth, often with the complete absence of sound or score, it is there because Krasinski has earned it and the film never tips into becoming a simple jump scare horror, mainly because bracketing it as horror in the first place is disingenuous.
A Quiet Place is a multitude of genres which slide together with a seamlessness that belies Krasinski’s first time behind the camera for a major studio picture (having previously directed low budget film The Hollars and a couple of episodes of The Office, on which he made his name). He has an assured understanding of pacing, tone and character which helps make the disparate aspects of the film—borrowing from numerous other sources and genres—all come together in a unique brew. It’s a tense survival drama with real heart and dark, understated beauty to the middle American, neo-Western surroundings.
A Quiet Place feels in some ways akin to Get Out in terms of how it has not only garnered significant critical word of mouth but that it doesn’t nearly fit into a specific box. Get Out has more of a mass market appeal in having a black comic level of satirical commentary behind the creepy horror elements, whereas A Quiet Place is a much more level and poised film (and not as revolutionary or brilliant as Jordan Peele’s film).
Nonetheless, one hopes it will gain a significant audience as this already has marked itself out as an impressive little picture in its own right. It could end up on more than a few Best of 2018 lists. Who knows? It could yet make it onto mine…