IN CINEMAS: 6th April
RUNNING TIME: 90 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In the near future, our planet has been invaded by aliens, forcing the last remnants of humanity to go underground, having figured out that the aliens are blind and can only react to sound. Keep your mouth shut and tread softly and you’ll be fine. A year or so after the invasion, the Abbott family – parents Evelyn and Lee Krasinski, and children Regan and Marcus – live in a remote farmhouse. Regan is deaf, which has given the Abbotts the advantage of their fluency in sign language, which allows them to converse safely. However, Evelyn is pregnant, mere days away from going into labour – and we all know how noisy babies are.…
Many horror films have played with the idea of silence, the recent Don’t Breathe being an especially good example, but there’s no doubt that the premise of A Quiet Place is such a great yet simple high concept that it’s very surprising that this is the first time it’s been put on screen. One family has to survive in a world overran by alien creatures who are blind but can hear, and therefore can’t make a sound. It’s a truly scary idea for a film and you’d probably have to be a truly bad filmmaker to totally screw it up. Luckily director John Krasinski seems right at home in this genre despite having never gone anywhere near it before, and has crafted a truly intense cinematic experience that already comes with some excellent reviews, a quick perusal revealing that some are even calling it this year’s Get Out, though there’s no attempt at social commentary here – the film is designed purely and simply as a scare machine. The preview showing I attended was nearly full and the audience seemed to be properly worked up – you can tell if people are truly ‘into’ a film even if they’re silent, there’s just something in the atmosphere. As for me – yes, I was nicely frightened in many places and exited the cinema fairly satisfied even though it only felt like the film had only ran for about hour, something which I think is a compliment. However, as I sat down to type a few plot holes revealed themselves that more thorough screenwriters should have noticed, and I could have personally done with more use of actual silence in the film, the frequent use of loud jump scares and a pounding score sometimes seeming at odds with the general idea. But then there are also several scenes in this film that are – and I don’t say this lightly – absolutely terrifying, which for many will be enough.
The early part of the film is quite masterly in its storytelling. A family tiptoes barefoot through a deserted city, collecting food and medical supplies, and communicating silently. By simple actions and reactions, we very quickly get an idea of the characters of each person but only gradually get an idea of what’s going on – none of that really forced exposition that you often get in films like this these days. It’s clear that not one sound must be made, not a single sound, even if it isn’t yet clear why that would be. Regan, who is deaf so doesn’t always know when she makes a sound, gives the youngest of the three children Beau a battery operated toy spaceship, Beau starts playing with it and the family suddenly has to run for it, Beau then paying with his life. We briefly see part of a monster, and I wandered if it was too early for the film to do this, though we don’t see one in full till about half way, and anyway it’s the idea of sound rather than sight that’s more a source of terror in this film, so I guess it’s kind of appropriate. After all, if you keep totally quiet, the monsters will probably leave you alone – but of course that’s not really possible to do!
We shift to some time later and Regan especially is extremely troubled and feels like an outcast, partly but not entirely because she blames herself for her Beau’s death. I must single out the fantastic performance by Millicent Simmonds here, having somebody who is actually deaf really pays dividends. Evelyn the mother is now pregnant – and you have to wonder how hubby managed to knock her up considering that sex to my knowledge involves at least some kind of noise. But the silliest thing is when some scenes in a forest have the human characters safe until they make a sound, but there’s no way that would be the case. I don’t know if screenwriters Krasinski, Bryan Woods and Scott Beck ever spent any time in a forest, but they’re pretty noisy places, even at night. The aliens would be constantly agitated. Set against this though is the way that small details are set up which you just know will pay off later – yes, it’s Chekov’s gun at its most obvious, but you’re on tender hooks as you await the auditory horror that’s to come. An exposed nail in the floor results in the film’s most wince-inducing moment. It even uses the sounds that a baby makes for nervous terror, because you know that any noise that comes from it could spell death. I did wonder if having the baby at all was a good idea, though maybe this family that prays together probably wouldn’t have even considered the idea of contraception. I’d have liked to have seen some discussions about this, about the wisdom of bringing a child into this awful world, but then a lot of information is concealed from us. We don’t even know much about this alien invasion apart from a few news clippings.
After the first half an hour, the following hour really doesn’t let up and there are some set pieces which may almost have you climbing the walls and which you certainly won’t forget in a hurry. A scene with Evelyn in a bath and then the basement is just masterful in its staging. This and another sequence in car are seem to be inspired by certain scenes in Steven Spielberg’s filmography, who seems to be a major influence on Krasinski in this film, from the way moments are set up to the camerawork, yet there’s little of that Spielberg sentimentality that for many [I don’t mind it most of the time] mars much of his stuff. Yes, you get a sense of how deeply this family cares about each other, but it’s usually done with restraint and when there are emotional moments they’ve certainly been earned. Krasinski, who also stars, and real-life wife Emily Blunt have an easy chemistry, something which isn’t always the case with real life partners on screen. The other chief inspiration appears to be a certain M. Night Shayamlan film which was very good until its ending – something which A Quiet Place almost replicates. Let’s just say that the sudden discovery of something that can harm and may kill these aliens isn’t quite as dumb as aliens who can be slain by water choosing to invade a planet that contains more water than land, but it’s terribly convenient and contrived. But at least things then conclude with a rather rousing final moment that may make you want to cheer.
Most of the very prevalent [maybe too prevalent, though that’s probably just me] jump scares do work and it’s nice that not a single one of them is false. There are also some great “it’s behind you” moments. The score by Marco Beltrami, whose recent work has been rather too influenced by the deadening Remote Control [Hans Zimmer and company] style for my liking, is a very fine, if conventional, horror soundtrack, and certainly adds to the terror of many scenes, though it’s perhaps overused in a film that might have benefited from more silence considering its premise. On the other hand, the way the sound sometimes changes to total quiet because Regan can’t hear a thing is well achieved and not at all distracting. The way the family uses sign language and simple gestures as well as general body language and eye contact adds so much to the tension and actual dialogue isn’t missed at all. The monsters, who look a cross between It! The Terror From Beyond Space and Stranger Things’ Demogorgans with a couple of insectoid touches, are rendered with surprisingly convincing CGI for what isn’t a high budget film. I’m often critical of CGI and feel it’s overused, but I’ll give credit where credit is due and say that the creatures look reasonably real and certainly inspire the right amount of fear.
If you don’t already consider Emily Blunt [not quite a stranger to horror] to be one of the finest actresses of her generation [I’m still having trouble getting used to the idea of her as Mary Poppins though] then this film will probably change your mind, especially during the film’s most intense sequence, which I won’t describe but which may have you marveling at the brilliant performing on display – well, if you’re not grabbing the arm of your cinema seat or your companion as tightly as possible. For most of the time, A Quiet Place works so bloody well as a horror movie, something made just to frighten, that I almost feel bad criticising certain details [why for instance does the seemingly thorough survivalist Lee leave family portraits on the wall that could drop any minute if a nail pops out?]. It made me think just a little about the noise I was making as I walked home from the cinema, so “job done” I guess.