The quieter you are, the more you can hear.
Silence is golden in review #8: A Quiet Place
Welcome! On today’s chopping block is the excellently presented suspense-thriller A Quiet Place. Officially categorized as a horror film, this 90-minute feature is already breaking box office records in its genre. I didn’t find this movie nearly as horrific as it was suspenseful, but technically it does deserve the designation. The movie is proudly maintaining appeal among fans and critics alike, and it’s actually one of the few films to come out this year for which critics are consistently delivering higher ratings and reviews than fans. A Quiet Place received a near-perfect score by my rubric, due to subtlety powerful cinematography, inspired performances, original concepts, and the unique and innovative use and (perhaps most notably) absence of sound. Key plot points and backstory were intentionally omitted, and while this device helps keep the audience locked into the narrative at the beginning, it detracts from what could have been a more intentioned climax towards the end. Still, 4.5 stars out of a possible 5 is an exceptional score, and for fans of horror, A Quiet Place is definitely worth a watch. Here’s why:
The film is set in rural New York, which allows the story to transition back and forth between small towns and sprawling countrysides, to isolated and intimate interiors. Thanks largely to the film’s Director, John Krasinski (The Office, 13 Hours) the subdued color palate chosen communicates a bleak, survivalist outlook; where convenience is a thing of the past, and safety an ever-present concern. Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen (Fences, The Girl on the Train) lit the film in a way that allows the visuals to stand out, and add depth to the overall tone of the work, without calling attention to its presence. Exteriors are lit very naturally, but accented with creative use of practicals, which is movie-speak for a light source emanating from within the frame. A scene with a candlelit dinner is a prime example. By contrasting the stark expanse of the wilderness with minimalistic living conditions, Bruus and Krasinski capture what it might feel like to be part of the food-chain again, which is appropriate given the circumstances. The film’s protagonists, The Abbott Family, are being hunted by terrifyingly strong and swift creatures who are blind, but possess super-sensitive hearing. The design and depiction of these creatures is both original and impressive. Production Designer Jeffrey Beecroft and Oscar winner Scott Farrar bring these apex predators to life while maintaining a delicate balance between believability and tangible ferocity. For excellent use of effects, lighting, and color, this movie gets a full star in the visual category.
As the title suggests, A Quiet Place capitalizes on constructing a plot that connects silence to safety. Because of this device, the audience is visually drawn in to the story and coerced to pay attention to the finer points portrayed. The technique resembles when someone motions for you to come closer so they can whisper, and then betrays your trust by yelling in your ear. Once we understand that the characters have to be silent to survive, we jump at even normal sounds, and especially at startling ones. Although there are very few extended periods in the film that have no sound whatsoever, the careful use of dialogue and score punctuate these moments of suspense with precision. Intelligent sound design throughout encourages a steady shift from silence at the outset, to utter turbulence towards the end. Composer Marco Beltrami supplies the music that facilitates this transition, and creates contextual crescendos that accentuate the horrifying feeling of being hunted. This movie receives a full star in audio for its originality and creativity.
The premise of this film calls for extreme expressivity from each of its actors to maintain plausibility, and each actor rises to the task. Stars John Krasinski and Emily Blunt (Sicario, The Devil Wears Prada) are married both on and off screen, allowing them to showcase their actual chemistry, and call upon real experience to share moments that seem genuinely intimate. Lesser known but equally gifted, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, and Cade Woodward play the Abbott children, and do well to sell the terrifying reality that the narrative exists in. The bulk of the dramatic burden falls to Blunt, who plays the very pregnant Evelyn Abbott – left alone to fend for herself and protect her unborn child and daughter while the men go off in search of supplies. Krasinski too is impressive in a serious role; having been somewhat typecast early on in his career thanks to his success as ‘Jim’ from The Office, his performance adds an unexpected level of gravitas to the story, proving his range as an actor. Simmonds shines as well as the Abbot family’s deaf daughter Regan. Simmonds actually became deaf in real life from a medication overdose as a child, and thereby lends authenticity to her character’s actions in the film. Jupe’s character is one of the lesser used in the story, but with an extensive credits list and excellent instincts, we’ve surely not heard the last of this young performer. A Quiet Place receives a full star in the acting category thanks to incredible casting and believable performances.
The only real hiccup in the film was the story itself, which was noticeably thin. The concept of a post-apocalyptic existence combined with an unknown sci-fi scourge isn’t a new convention. As such, it wouldn’t have taken that much effort to elaborate on key causes of the current universe the narrative lives in. All this may sound vague and obscure, but I’m trying not to give anything away. Other plot points seem forced and unnecessary, and add to the silent suspense, but forsake plausibility in the process. A little backstory goes a long way in this case, and even though the immersion of the present is forced upon us, I found myself questioning the motivation of the characters based on what would seem to be common sense. One such example: the monsters that have already destroyed society are known to have heightened sensitivity to sound, and yet the governments and militaries of the world haven’t seemed to exploit this knowledge to defeat them. The imagination is stretched further when these creatures are shown capable of performing certain tasks with ease, but not others; like tearing their way through one piece of metal effortlessly, only to be stopped by another, similar piece. Little inconsistencies like this distracted me from the mounting suspense, and led me to question the character’s motivations all too often. Another detractor was that the movie ended about 30 minutes too early, and I would certainly have enjoyed seeing the aftermath and fallout that the main plot suggests would have taken place after the credits began to roll. Perhaps that’s a setup for a sequel. On the plus side, Krasinski finds a way to convert a nearly obsolete film convention such as silence into a powerful plot device, which more than makes up for much of the movie’s shortcomings in the story department. I give A Quiet Place a half a star for walking this artistic tightrope.
Whenever I approach this category, I get to ask myself if I really liked the film or not. Style is subjective and relative, and speaks to individual tastes. What one person enjoys, another may despise, and this holds especially true in art. For my part, A Quiet Place is an incredibly immersive film, unique in its approach and delightful in design. Its motifs are intuitively placed to transport the audience into a world that thrives on instinct and survives through silence. Genuinely startling at points, this feature film is surprisingly engaging, and succeeds by capturing our attention through an audio/visual slight of hand – bringing down the volume only to turn it back up. This deprivation and contrasting immersion of the senses creates an ultimately original experience, and is obviously at its most potent when viewed in a dark room, on a big screen, accompanied by enormous speakers. One full star for style.
So there it is! Another justifiably detailed review that doesn’t contain any real spoilers. If you’re a fan of suspense movies (as I don’t consider this a horror film) I wouldn’t miss seeing A Quiet Place in the theaters. There are no real gory scenes, hence the PG-13 rating, but some of the situations certainly aren’t suitable for young children. You can check out the IMDb page and Box Office numbers by clicking on the highlighted words in this sentence, and look at the individual actor and creative profiles involved, and other pertinent articles, by clicking on the underlined words in previous paragraphs. Please feel free to comment, share, and suggest future films, and thanks as always for reading.