A QUIET PLACE
In a post-apocalyptic world, cobbledtogether headlines and notes reveal the presence of an alien invader, one that hunts by sound. A nerve-racking overture follows a family as they tiptoe through abandoned streets and stores in search of medicine. We soon learn that this family had something of an edge on the mysterious creatures that have depopulated the planet: the eldest daughter, Regan (the remarkable Millicent Simmonds) is deaf. Sign language has allowed them to communicate in their remote, survivalist-friendly farm, while others have perished. Months pass as a terrible tragedy eats at the family, straining relations between father and daughter in particular. Their silence now serves purposes other than continuance. Marco Beltrami’s low-frequency score warns of catastrophe long before it arrives. For a silent film, the sound design can get awfully loud and alarming. In common with Trey Edward Shults’s criminally overlooked and similarly themed It Comes at Night, the family’s studied isolation can’t last. The film’s nail-biting tension makes for pleasing genre thrills and a conduit for parental anxiety.
A welcome alternative to the mind-shredding din of virtually any modern action movie, A Quiet Place is an old-fashioned creature feature with a single, simple hook: The creatures are blind, hungry and navigate by sound. Possessed of craniums that roll open to expose a pulsing, wet membrane, they’re like skittering ear holes with pointy teeth and clattering appendages. Drawing from a variety of heritage horrors, including Alien and Predator, their design is familiar yet effective, their origin kept shrouded. Extraterrestrial beings or man-made weapons gone rogue, they’re a mystery whose source the movie wisely recognizes as irrelevant. Neither intellectually deep nor even logically sound (press any soft spot and the whole plot caves in), A Quiet Place feels at odds with a musical score that too often wants to tell us when to jump, and how high. Yet in its convincing portrayal of a situation where a rusty nail is as lethal as an unexploded bomb, and the few remaining inhabitants seem — much like the audience — more likely to die of stress than anything else, the movie rocks. You may go in jaded, but you’ll leave elated or I’ll eat my words.
“In association with Michael Bay.” Now there’s a phrase to make the heart plummet. Luckily, this is a Bay movie for people who hate Michael Bay, a creature-feature that screws with our senses, so we can hear ourselves think. That it exists at all is thanks to acting husband-and-wife John Krasinski and Emily Blunt. Smart, sexy, fertile, they’re the Beyoncé and Jay-Z of cinema. By appearing, here, as a devoted couple, they zap us with their combined charms. They’re selling a dream, but it’s a product worth buying. Krasinski (who directs) is Lee Abbott, trying to protect his family from blind aliens, who sniff out noise like white sharks sniff out blood. When silence breaks, hell is let loose. Viewers who are pregnant and/or feeling fragile should maybe don an eye-mask for two key scenes. The cinematography by Charlotte Bruus Christensen is refreshingly unglossy. The “music” is intriguing. A foetal pulse, one of a number of off-the-radar rhythms, sounds as trippy as a chill-out dance track. As for its politics, A Quiet Place has definitely been influenced by Mad Max: Fury Road. Guns save the day, heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and difference isn’t something that needs to be “fixed”.
As a director and an actor, John Krasinski should be applauded for knowing the power of a close-up on a face. Maybe that’s thanks to his years on NBC’s The Office as the sardonic everyman Jim, who would mug into the camera every chance he got. The spectre of a long-running TV role like that is difficult to outrun no matter how talented you are; with A Quiet Place, Krasinski is all but sprinting. He directed, co-wrote, and stars in this effective bit of nerve-jangling horror, which is told almost entirely without dialogue. Instead, we get faces—sometimes affectionate, usually stricken, often looking right at the camera. A Quiet Place isa suspenseful drama about a household existing under the most dire kind of threat. Krasinski smartly realizes that such a story should be largely told in close-up, to emphasize not only the fear of the situation, but also the intimate bonds keeping this unit together. Every microexpression—a wrinkled forehead, a darting glance—matters when people aren’t able to speak aloud to each other. A Quiet Place is a taut piece of genre filmmaking, to be sure, though it succeeds because it leads with a believable, if heightened, portrayal of a loving family.