John Krasinski‘s horror film A Quiet Place has been on the radar for over a year, with posters, stills, clips and trailers promising an unusual take on the horror genre. A mostly silent film almost entirely without spoken dialogue, A Quiet Place is unique, incredibly tense and will have you flinching at every noise.
The film was co-written by Krasinski – along with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck – who also directs and stars in it alongside Emily Blunt. Michael Bay is surprisingly also attached, with the film being produced through his originally horror-centred production company Platinum Dunes. Don’t let Bay’s name put you off, though. A Quiet Place is an intelligently set premise, and the importance of sound and communication, as well as how debilitating it could be to have that taken away, is well thought out.
The film is set in post-apocalyptic America, and begins with a title card that, instead of an actual date, shows simply “Day 89”. The film opens on an empty, devastated town and we soon learn the reason for this: the existence of monstrous creatures that viciously attack any sound. In this world, our protagonists are a small family living in fear and silence in an attempt to survive.
Far from just destruction and despair, the film gives a more realistic portrayal of life after an apocalyptic event, albeit an adapted one. We see that life goes on, as the family continues to live through their changed lifestyles. They always go barefoot, tiptoe everywhere and speak only through signing in their struggle to be as noiseless as possible.
For a scary movie, the film allows itself time to breathe, letting us fully get to know the family and see how they live. It also builds up the suspense, as we know it’s impossible to never ever make any noise and the longer the silence stretches on, the more you’re expecting something to go wrong.
The entire cast give great performances. Blunt and Krasinski play weary parents trying to care for their children as they struggle to come to terms with their altered lives. Despite all the hiding and fearing for their safety, we get to see real tender moments between the couple.
As Krasinski is most known as Jim from The Office, you might think he’d have trouble pulling off a gritty, serious role like this, but his performance is amazing as a father fraught with grief and responsibility. Blunt, despite playing the wife and mother, as well as being heavily pregnant through most of the movie, doesn’t take a back seat to her husband and is far from passive. The two have an easy, natural chemistry stemming from the fact that Krasinski and Blunt are married in real life.
On the other hand, about half of the cast are children – and child actors have a reputation for not being the best actors, but that’s definitely not the case here. Both Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe do a great job of making you believe they’ve grown up in this world.
The casting of Simmonds is also a wonderful moment for sorely-needed diversity in the industry, as the actress herself is deaf. It makes sense in a film where all the characters use American Sign Language and Krasinski has stated that he was adamant the film cast a deaf actress in the role. Simmonds’ casting and role in this film is a huge boost to the visibility of hearing impaired people in film, as too often deaf roles are written for non-deaf actors, with actors who are hearing impaired not even being able to audition.
A Quiet Place is primarily a monster movie, and these monsters don’t disappoint. I loved that, unlike in most monster movies, you see the creatures very early on in the film and instead of being partially hidden in by shadows, they spend a lot of time running around in daylight. The creatures themselves are well designed and appropriately scary, striking the balance between size, speed and unnatural form. Without giving away too many spoilers, it’s clear from their design that thought and care has been given to how an animal might look if its primary sense is hearing. As predators, they’re absolutely petrifying and moments with these creatures are the most intense parts of the film.
The film’s use of sound is also a breath of fresh air, as a lot of newer horror films rely on sudden loud noises, such as characters screaming, in order to tell the audience to be scared. Whilst there are some jump-scare-like noises in the film, they’re few and far between and don’t work like your typical jump-scare. So much of the film is almost silent that you find yourself becoming hyper-aware of the smallest noises. This conversely makes the few loud noises seem deafening. There is a score (which I wasn’t necessarily expecting, considering the stripped back sound design of the film), but the film’s overall silence makes the music seem overwrought at times.
Even though the movie should be recognised for its creative use of sound, I’d like to take a second to talk about the visuals. Apart from the creatures, the film has very little in the way of special effects, but that doesn’t keep it from being visually arresting. Despite the visible destruction and ruined buildings, there are hints of the old America left behind. Light is utilised particularly well (and this, in a way, becomes a plot-point later on). From the sun-drenched fields to Stranger Things-esque flickering lightbulbs, the film has a very strong visual impression of light and dark.
Despite being generally well-written and gripping, A Quiet Place isn’t perfect and there a few little things that stand out in an otherwise fantastic film.
For films with made-up monsters, it’s hard to define the line of realism. The way a successful movie monster works is based on rules. Writers need to come up with solid rules for how the creature works that grounds them into their world, and then never break those rules – even if the main characters don’t know them or we as viewers don’t yet know them. This is what makes a monster feel realistic and not just like some undefinable “scary thing”. Overall, A Quiet Place does a solid job with the rules these creatures operate on, but there are some points where the film seems to forget that we understand these rules (for example, if the creatures are blind, why hide behind door frames?).
The last few minutes descend into schlock territory. The film suddenly becomes much more action-filled (perhaps this is where Michael Bay’s involvement comes in) and you find that the more you pay attention to what’s happening, the less sense it makes. Especially the very end (around the last thirty seconds) of the film, which feels like it belongs in a completely different movie. I still wouldn’t say the ending is disappointing, and it doesn’t ruin the film, but it’s just a jarringly different note to end on.
This film is ultimately a great, thrilling horror movie and a fantastic monster flick. While it’s not perfect, there’s so much the film does to try something new. It makes some bold choices that help to change how we watch scary movies. I hope that A Quiet Place provokes more writers into being willing to experiment with horror tropes in the future.