A Quiet Place, 2018
directed by John Krasinski
starring Emily Blunt, John Krasinski and Millicent Simmonds
If you’ve ever tiptoed your way into the kitchen for a late nigh snack, you know how hard it is to be quiet. Imagine having to live every day in such a state of silence, not because you don’t want your flatmates to know just how often you eat past midnight, but because making any noise louder than your surroundings means you’ll be dead in just a few seconds. That is the premise of John Krasinski‘s first directing venture into the horror genre, A Quiet Place.
In this hostile near-future, a blind (and presumably) alien species with impenetrable skin and a heightened hearing ability is hunting human and animals alike, deeply affecting the way we live and function as a society. That is essentially all we’re told about these creatures and the state of the world, so from this point on, you might as well stop thinking. Poke around that plot even a little, and you’ll completely miss out on A Quiet Place.
If they hear you, they hunt you.
Because in truth, figuring out the particulars of where these creatures came from, or what the world at large is doing to fight them, never feels like the point. So if you’re someone who gets caught up in that kind of rationale, you might feel frustrated watching this movie. Krasinski and his co-screenwriters, Brian Woods and Scott Becks, seemed far more concerned with the experience of a family’s specific struggle not just to survive, but also to live, by exploring the details of how their daily lives have changed dramatically. From how they hunt, cook and eat their meals, to how they communicate, do their laundry or play board games – soundlessly.
For it to work, they had to go to the extreme: no noisy plates, no shoes, and of course, no talking. With notoriously few spoken lines, A Quiet Place turns to sign language (and overall body language, facial expressions, context) as a primary means of communication for its characters. The oldest kid, Regan (played by real life deaf actress Millicent Simmons) has a hearing impairment, so the family had the advantage of knowing sign language already. However, Regan herself is at a disadvantage: she can’t hear danger coming.
— Spoilers Ahead! —
There’s one brilliant scene where a creature is near, and since Regan is quiet, the creature can’t hear her. But Regan has her back to the creature, so she can’t see nor sense a danger that is right there. Another amazing use of her condition is the scene where Beau, the youngest kid, dies. Because she can’t hear the toy beeping, Regan only realises something awful is happening because of the fear she sees in her parents faces. Pair this with a clever use of sound editing, and you’ve got a recipe for great horror and emotional impact.
— Evelyn Abbott, A Quiet Place (2018)
Since we’re in spoiler territory, let’s talk about the famous bath tub scene where Evelyn has the baby. There’s some interesting details to it, but the take away is undoubtedly Emily Blunt‘s terrific performance. As it is much more moving to see someone trying not to cry than sobbing, it is far more horrifying to watch someone fight so hard not to make a sound, than to scream their lungs out. It’s almost excruciating to watch her writhe in pain silently, while the creature comes up the stairs. You want her so hard to succeed, but of course, she does eventually scream. She couldn’t keep it in any longer, and it’s that despair that makes Blunt’s scream so shocking, and so visceral.
— It’s Safe Again —
It’s a scene that also marks the beginning of the film’s long action-horror sequence, which I found brilliant, for a number of reasons. First, it’s just great horror writing. You get a false sense of safety throughout the film, thinking if only they remain quiet, they can live, right? The baby poses an obvious threat, but even before that we’re warned that they’re only human, they will make mistakes – inevitably, they will make noise. In most films, we look for signs that the threat might be near, because it tends to come when it pleases. But here there is such a direct connection to danger, that a loud sound immediately instills this feeling of unavoidable danger.
— John Krasinski, in an interview for the NYT
The best example would actually be the moment the lantern falls. It’s a classic jump scare, but a very effective one. And the viewer’s reaction can be interesting, too: I don’t know about you, but I gasped, covering my mouth with my hands the second that lantern dropped. Trying to be quiet. When normally, I’d just scream, right? I was surprised by how much I was in the movie at that point. So suddenly all hell breaks loose, the whole family is scattered trying to stay safe but also find each other. It’s an oddly powerful mix of anxiety, fear, heartbreak and small reliefs that proves to be very entertaining and engrossing.
Second, the cinematography. What was once coated in gorgeous muted colours of green and yellow from nature and warm interiors, is now painted in a menacing red and black. It allows for some creative lighting, though nothing too distracting. And third, the great score by Marco Beltrami (who also composed Logan and Snowpiercer), which takes a turn here with more urgent tones. By the way, this is an eerie soundtrack you’re not likely to listen to past midnight.
Don’t make a sound. Never leave the path. Red means RUN.
So yes, most of the film revolves around sound and silence. In a lot of scenes, this silence is heavy, and oppressive; while in others, it’s quite beautiful, or even sad. In the rare instances where they can hear something, or speak – there’s a unique pleasure and preciousness to it. A shared song, a baby’s heartbeat. The relief of finally speaking out loud. The waterfall scene in particular is incredibly poignant, and might actually be my favourite. It’s lovely, but it also contrasts with, and adds a whole new dimension to Regan’s sadness. To how she feels robbed of a part of living. And to how her father tries to help her with no success – which causes her to experience failure, over and over again.
— John Krasinski, in an interview for the NYT
If you were wondering why Krasinski was saying this was a love letter to his kids, this is why. Doing everything for you children, even the ultimate sacrifice. And not just for Regan, but also for Marcus, of course. Not having to explain what’s happening in the world any further, allows for plenty of intimate scenes that bring these characters to life. From teaching Marcus how to do math or fish, to keeping him safe from violence and enormous pain (thinking about that haunting forest scene), A Quiet Place really does come across as a heartfelt – albeit scary – story of family and love.
And that’s something you also feel through Krasinski and Blunt’s performances, whose onscreen chemistry is naturally off the charts. The real life married couple manages to convey a lovely intimacy and shared history in just a couple of scenes, effectively anchoring the whole plot. It’s this rich storyline that makes that crucial moment feel so real and moving, and be as effective as all the jump scares. All of these moments make for a striking combo: a horror movie with a strong emotional core, that can potently move you to tears in between gasps of terror. Isn’t that something.