A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place

John Krasinski (2018)

John Krasinski’s new film A Quiet Paceis making a lot of noise at the box office this week, and scoring a big buzz among critics, who are nearly unanimous in their admiration of the movie. Krasinski, probably best known to most viewers for his seasons on TV’s The Office, has used this film as his Citizen Kaneproject, directing, writing and starring in the film. He was also executive producer (a role he earlier performed for the acclaimed 2016 film Manchester by the Sea). Krasinski’s one earlier big-screen directing foray, 2016’s The Hollars, was not particularly well reviewed, but this recent effort is bringing him accolades.

Think about all the noise there is in our everyday lives. The sounds of television, radios, podcasts, iTunes, audible and countless other devices bombard us everywhere we go; the white noise of traffic, other people’s conversations, elevator music, sirens, animal noises, lawnmowers, leaf-blowers, workers doing their jobs, people talking on bluetooths (blueteeth?) is inescapable and ultimately our brains tune it out. To experience absolute silence is rare and, perhaps, even a shock to the senses. Krasinski asking us to sit in the dark in a movie theater with no sound is awkward, even nerve-wracking, for the first several minutes, and causes a good deal of tension in itself, without the need for the monsters.

But monsters there are. For A Quiet Placeis a horror movie, and not a horror movie in the sense of slasher flick with a whole bunch of blood and dismemberment, but a science-fiction horror movie in the classic sense of, say, Ridley Scott’s and James Cameron’s first two Alienmovies.It keeps you on the edge of your seat watching for these initially hidden monsters who, like Scott’s creatures, race across the screen to kill people before you even have a chance to catch a glimpse.

As the film opens, we see a family in a drug store. But it’s a post-apocalyptic drug store that they are scavenging in, as it turns out. It’s “Day 79” of, apparently, the fall of civilization, and the family is looking for medicine for one of the children, who is sick. They communicate with one another only in sign language, though, which probably makes us wonder—or at least it would in an ideal world in which we haven’t already read or heard about the premise of this movie far in advance. As they leave the store, we see the front page of a tabloid newspaper with the banner headline “It’s Sound!” the import of which will become all too clear to us just a bit later. The film will focus on the story of this family, Lee (Krasinsky) and Evelyn Abbott (played by Krasinski’s real-life wife Emily Blunt), and their three children: Regan (Millicent Simmonds, previously seen inWonderstruck), Marcus (Noah Jupe of Wonder), and the baby of the family, Beau (Cade Woodward in his first film role).

A tense scene ensues in which the boy, barely out of toddlerhood,forgets or ignores the rules and turns on a loud toy.Why? Because he has picked up a model Space Shuttle toy in the store and, against his parents’ stern prohibition, has put batteries in the thing so that, as they walk away from the drug store on railroad tracks a la The Walking Dead, the kid presses a button that makes the toy ding and whistle. And at the moment that sound is emitted, and his parents turn back in horror. We learn in early scenes how the creatures work, responding to sound with a swoop that means the death of the person making the noise.

Essentially, the plot of the film revolves around this situation: The world has apparently been overrun by these creatures, who seem to be blind and covered with an armor-like exoskeleton, but they have incredibly sensitive ears and attack anything that makes a sound. The Abbot family live in a house that they’ve tried to make creature-proof. Regan is deaf (which helps explain how the family has survived so long, being already proficient in sign language that helps them communicate while keeping silent),but she’s also intrepid, though she feels a rift with her father, blaming herself for an earlier family tragedy. The younger brother, Marcus, is more fearful, balking as his father takes him away from home to try to teach him survival skills that will help him stay alive amidst the monstrous threat.

Ninety minutes of this film is enough—it keeps you so tense that you’d explode if you had to endure much more. Krasinsky chooses to shoot the film largely in close-up; since the characters can’t express themselves in spoken words, they communicate most of their thoughts and emotions through their facial expressions. This makes the film very intimate—you are as close as you can be to these characters, and you are with them in their closed fortress. Traveling beyond that fortress feels dangerous, but it is also in a sense liberating: When Lee and Marcus reach a loud running stream, you feel a great relief that for once they are able to talk without fear of immediate violent death, their voices masked by the sound of rushing water.

The strangest aspect of this whole situation is the fact that Evelyn is, yes, pregnant. Logically, this seems crazy. What rational couple would have the cajonesto bring a child into this dystopian world? Never mind the dangers and likely suffering this child will be subject to. Just in about the fact that babies, hello, cry. You can’t stop them. But the new life is here a physical manifestation of the family’s determination to survive, to ensure that human life goes on despite the inhospitable waste land this world has become.

What we don’t really know is what things are like elsewhere in this world. Are these monsters fairly local, or have they ravaged the entire continent, or the whole planet? How many other humans are still alive, trying to survive? It seems as if all infrastructure has broken down (which makes me wonder why the electricity and plumbing still work in their house. Perhaps they have a private well and generator). But there are other logical problems with the film. How many of these monsters are there? Where did they come from? Are we supposed to believe that all the firepower of the U.S. military could not defeat these things? Sure they are covered with a kind of armor, but could they really stand up against a tank?

But clearly we’re not supposed to ask those kinds of questions. This is a genre movie, so the question to ask, as my wife is always quick to remind me, is whether this film is good for what it’s good for. As a horror movie, it does its job, keeping you on edge from beginning to end, and does it without grossing you out with blood and guts. Further, it transcends its genre to some extent, with memorable performances by Krasinski, Simmonds, and especially Blunt, who makes us believe a woman can deliver a baby without making a sound; and more importantly by effectively illustrating, through a kind of parable, the importance of family and of human life even in the bleakest of circumstances. I’ll give this one three Tennysons.

 

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