John Krasinski has demonstrated a firm understanding of how to craft a tense horror film. A Quiet Place (2018) starts strong with establishing the world the film is set in, and it has to do so predominantly visually. A cast must be strong in order to craft a film that conveys so much meaning yet has almost no spoken words; this one was up to the task.
A Quiet Place left me, and the rest of the audience at my screening, speechless…and then, moments later, I couldn’t shut up about it.
Lee (Krasinski) and Evelyn (Emily Blunt) want to make sure their children are safe, just like any other parents. However, Marcus (Noah Jupe), Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and the parents have to be silent in order to avoid attracting the creatures who have ravaged the earth over the past year. They hunt by sound, and any noise one might make could be their last.
There are so many areas of this film that need to be praised. From writing, cinematography, set design, acting, and direction. There is one element after another that all manage to stand out. The film manages to take a family drama that grapples with grief, survivor’s guilt, and misassigned blame in very organic ways. If you had pulled the creatures out of the film entirely, you’d have a potentially compelling story in just dealing with those issues alone. However, in the setting of the film, those dramatic elements are heightened and the tension Krasinski builds around them only makes the audience scoot ever closer to the edge of their seat.
In a few ways, this film feels like a better version of Signs. Both films deal with similar themes of dealing with loss, but Signs failed with both its creature and the battling of it. That’s where this film really shines against M. Night Shyamalan’s film. It successfully grapples with the themes it presents while nailing the horror aspects. A Quiet Place’s creature design is excellent…it is slightly reminiscent of the Lickers from the Resident Evil franchise, but perhaps mixed with a praying mantis. There are some very specific aspects of the design that deal with its use of sound as a hunting method look both awesome and horrifying.
A film with a premise of silence has to address sound in interesting ways…
Of course, a major challenge of this film is dealing with the sound. The movie opts to make good use of the silence, and even goes absolutely silent when we are put in Regan’s perspective. She’s deaf (which is why the family already spoke sign language), and her hearing aid doesn’t offer her much help. The film shifts perspectives and utilizes the sound design very well in this regard. One particularly sweet moment features Lee and Evelyn dancing to silence until Evelyn places an earbud into Lee’s ear. The music kicks in, adding to the romance of the scene.
The film doesn’t make you wait too long to establish the creature and the tension. Its pacing is intensified as the film goes on, and the impact was felt by the audience in my screening. The audience seemed to believe they were right along the characters in the film – as the movie got quiet, so did the crowd. You could almost hear them all quickly inhale and then hold their breath until they felt the danger had passed. There didn’t appear to be a single person at my screening that wasn’t fully invested in the story of survival the movie was delivering. The characters were all valued, and the audience was worried about their safety.
Opening scene spoiler in the next paragraph…
This could be deemed as a spoiler, but as this scene is in the trailer and at the very beginning of the film, I’ll discuss it. The family initially has three children as the film opens only 90 days or so after the creatures appear. They are scavenging in a nearby town and the youngest boy, Beau (Cade Woodward), becomes fixated with a toy rocket ship. As Lee discovers this, he carefully takes it away from him and removes the batteries, communicating that it’s “too loud.” Regan, trying to be a good big sister, sneaks it back to him since the batteries were removed. However, Beau wants the batteries, and quietly takes them as they prepare to make their way back home. Moments later, he activates the toy, and the sirens alert the family to his poor decision and to the creatures. The film establishes early on that the stakes are high and no one is truly safe if the film is willing to kill a four-year-old in the opening sequence. As the film jumps ahead to just over a year, that moment is what sets the themes in place as Regan blames herself for Beau’s death, while assuming that her dad does, too.
The cast shines in each of these moments. They are able to do so much non-verbally that it’s difficult not to be impressed. Krasinski has established his non-verbal skills by looking at the cameras on The Office, Blunt is a seasoned actress, and Jupe and Simmonds manage to deliver equally talented performances. What they were able to do with no spoken words was cinematic gold. The entire cast is able to convey numerous yet complex emotions with only facial expressions and gestures – something that, if done by a weaker cast, could have easily ruined this film.
There is so much about this film that I just absolutely loved. The set design is fantastic, from the strands of Christmas lights strategically lining the farm as a way to communicate in the event of an emergency, to the layout of the rooms in the home. There may be a few issues that come to mind as I continue to dwell on the story and the film, but the few that come to mind now are insignificant. A Quiet Place earns the Must See rating, and I encourage you to make it to your local theater for this one.