Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Silent As The Grave

Year: 2018
Director: John Krasinski
Cast: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds 
Run Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

A Quiet Place might seem like a unique entry in the horror genre, but there's a lot of precedent for it in the Blumhouse Productions canon. They've already played with huge swaths of silence dominating the sound design in the Mike Flanagan home invasion thriller Hush, and they've already given a shot at the horror genre to a former comedian director with last year's explosively successful Get Out. But why not let others in on the fun? Platinum Dunes and Paramount have had a phenomenally successful opening weekend, and let's not begrudge them of earning that off the back of a movie that isn't lowest-common-denominator garbage.

Pictured: the weekend box office once A Quiet Place hit theaters.

In A Quiet Place, which was co-written, directed, and performed by The Office star John Krasinski, the world has been overrun by hideous demon monsters that in a matter of months turned the entire Earth into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. These monsters are blind, and they hunt by sound, so the tiny remainder of the population is forced into hiding, being as quiet as possible in order to survive.

We follow the survival story of the Abbott family: a beardy, overprotective father (Krasinski), a pregnant mother (Emily Blunt, his real life wife, and this sure must have been fun for them to make), a deaf daughter (Millicent Simmonds), and a nervous, wimpy son (Noah Jupe). They get names in the credits but we don't ever hear them in the movie, so why bother?

All you need to know about him is that he is Jim and he does NOT know how to shush.

A Quiet Place is essentially a silent film: basically without any scrap of dialogue other than American Sign Language, only with all the lush sound design you'd typically expect from a monster movie. It's a fun experiment, and there's a lot to recommend it. 

First and foremost is obviously the aforementioned soundscape, which builds quivering tension through absolute silence. And when loud noises come cracking across your ears, it's not just to accentuate a jump scare. The sounds are scary not because of what they are, but what they mean. You might jolt because of the noise, but the fact that the sound is the very thing that immediately exposes the characters to danger doesn't allow you to relax, like any other horror movie shock gag. The way A Quiet Place sustains tension in its monster sequences is completely beyond reproach, constantly adding layer after layer of visual and aural complication to some immensely intense moments.

Plus, there are a handful of pretty stunning visual elements to accent this sound. Krasinski's use of red light (either from the emergency bulbs strung across their property or various other sources) bathes the frame in jagged streaks of color that crack open the aesthetic of the movie and give you something completely new and sleek to marvel at. These are the moments where the filmmaking really comes alive, because otherwise its presentation is pretty standard.

And, of course, you can't ignore the monsters. They're handled in exactly the right way. You get brief glimpses of them early on that make them even more terrifying because you can't quite make out their exact shape except that they're big and spindly and not friendly. But when you eventually see more of them, you can appreciate the fact that their design is still f**king uncanny and frightening. There are a couple extreme close-ups that are a little dodgy, but that's maybe ten seconds out of many many minutes of monster-fied terror.

But, in a way, isn't the true monster the fact that John Krasinski hasn't had a leading movie role until now?

Speaking of Krasinski, he has assembled a cast here that completely works. You're not gonna be blown away by any particular showcase moment (except for maybe one scene of Emily Blunt actually using her voice, with a hoarseness that belies years of disuse and neglect of her vocal cords), but they're all effective at drawing you into the terror, especially the kids who have no right being as good as they are.

Unfortunately, the characters themselves don't entirely serve the performers bringing them to life. The world of A Quiet Place is captivating and unique, but these archetypes are nothing we haven't seen before in a million post-apocalyptic movies or hell, even family dramas. They're rough sketches of human beings that are meant to draw up emotion because of what they represent rather than what they are, and the fact that they lean on pretty rigidly structured gender roles isn't really the format to get me on their side. Also the fact that there are an alarming amount of parallels to the characterizations in Signs are really not designed for my particular brand of entertainment.

This fact also doesn't help the slow pace of the first act, where we spend the most time with these people going about their daily lives. Their personalities are so empty and basic that their interactions aren't particularly engaging, and the way Krasinski chooses to linger in certain setup scenes can feel a little punishing.

But hey, it does It Comes at Night way better than that movie ever did, so that's a big plus in my book. I'll take a generic but effective horror movie any day. I feel like I was promised a new classic and I didn't get that, but what A Quiet Place is is still pretty neat. I've been parading around convinced that it was a Blumhouse picture for a good couple months now, and I was shocked to realize that I was wrong, because it feels exactly like their model: cheap, simple, and not always remarkable, but usually solid and reliable as popcorn entertainment. I hate being wrong, but that's really not a bad thing, I daresay.

TL;DR: A Quiet Place is a fun experimental horror flick that's a teensy bit more run-of-the-mill than I wanted it to be.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 1020


  1. I was excited about it, because I was wondering how they could possibly manage such a difficult concept. Them the reviews came in, promising they managed it very well indeed. And then I watched it, and then I wished I'd given thirteen more bucks to Steven Spielberg instead, and he's a billionaire, Brennan. He doesn't need my money!

    (I'm glad you liked it, though, and even concede it has the strengths you ascribe to it. I also take some solace in the fact that you aren't raving and freaking out about the damn thing, as many are.)

    1. Yeah, honestly I was shocked that this movie received the accolades it did. I found the plot incredibly frustrating, even if I was willing to allow some of the dumber aspects of its premise.