If they hear you, they hunt you
Quick! Not long left!
If you’re a fan of cinema, there’s a good chance that you have already seen John Krasinski’s new film A Quiet Place – but if you haven’t, see it now. See it before you sit down for Simon Baker’s Breath. See it before you line up for Marvel’s latest money-making mega-movie. Why? Because A Quiet Place hasn’t long left to run in cinemas and, while it will still play as a good film on the TV or over your laptop, Krasinski’s armrest-gripping horror is a great film on the big screen.
The main reason for this is because of sound; not just the idea of sound and the integral role it plays in the plot of the movie, but because of the way the director heightens your sensitivity to sound so much that you become just as edgy as the characters. Krasinski utilises sound to shock, distract, exhilarate and ultimately terrify you more artfully than any other movie in the past five years. By amplifying some noises and omitting others, Krasinski plays with our expectations so that a smashed plate can have the same effect on us as a car bomb, rendering us helpless as victims of surprise zombie YouTube clips. Essentially the director uses suspense, fear and a heavy dose of noiselessness in order to transform sound itself into an almost character – one that brings trouble, like an uncle who unfailingly drinks too much at Christmas. Sound is a major player in A Quiet Place; the best way to do true justice to the film is to see it in a big, dark room with Dolby surround coming from the speakers.
The premise of the movie is actually quite simple: preyed upon by indomitable creatures that hunt by sound, one family endeavours to survive in post-monster-apocalypse America. The Abbott family is made up of Lee (played by director Krasinski, who also wrote the screenplay), his wife Evelyn (played by Emily Blunt, Krasinski’s real-life spouse), and their children Regan, Marcus and Beau. The film opens with them scavenging in a deserted countryside town. From the get go, an undercurrent of alert strain runs through the unit, and the first thought that hits you is how much care and energy it must take to perform every action soundlessly, all the time. In the same scene, the youngest son presents a lights-and-noise rocket ship to his family, and they all stare at it like it’s a live grenade. The acting is excellent; the tension palpable. Krasinski is fixed on the thing in the same way you’d look at a wild lion that’s looking at you. He must gently coax this deadly toy out of his juvenile son’s hands, no mean feat for a parent even with the use of words. We also learn that the daughter, Regan, is deaf – and in a masterful stroke of post-production, the shots from her perspective are completely devoid of natural noise, highlighting for us the difference between a quiet place and a truly silent one. The family walks barefoot along sand trails – careful but confident that they have reduced any kind of noise pollution to the lowest possible level– before tragedy strikes. It strikes in a way that leaves you with a sickening understanding of the world they now live in; with no illusions about their imperative need for quiet.
The film reopens with the Abbott family a year later and, by now, more than 400 days after the incursion of the creatures, each member is marked by their own mixed sense of guilt, grief, and melancholy. Whatever Lee was before, he is now a survivalist. His mien is shadowed by the gruff weight of responsibility, and it is Evelyn the family must turn to for expressions of love and support. While Lee has been reduced to the hunter/protector, she continues to both school and soothe the children. She is also heavily pregnant. Regan is becoming a teenager, her need for independence smothered by her father’s concern about her hearing and return to classic gender roles. Marcus has insecurities, in an environment that demands incredible chunks of courage on a daily basis. This is the gold woven into the fabric of A Quiet Place; because while the concept is simple, the implications of a world reduced to silence are far more interesting and complex. It is not just about how the Abbott family stay alive, but it is also about how they live; how they learn and relate to each other, trying to eke out a human existence in the most adverse of conditions. A Quiet Place compels us to question the hegemony of sound in communication and asks us to empathise with those who are hearing impaired; what does a fight between dad and daughter look like in sign language? The film wants us to reflect on our morality before we criticise Lee and Evelyn for bringing a baby into a world so fraught with peril, to consider the want and force of human nature even in the worst of circumstances. In a similar way to Jordan Peele’s 2017 Get Out, where the creepy thrills are set against the backdrop of broader social contexts, Krasinski essentially uses his monster-horror film to explore universally human issues, and undoubtedly the most prevalent theme in A Quiet Place is parenthood. Krasinski, a new parent together with on-screen partner Blunt, revealed in interviews that the fears of his character Lee mirror the kind of worst-fears that fathers sometimes get.
“This is me tackling what I think parenthood really is”
– John Krasinski to The Toronto Sun
It is not simply the script that transforms A Quiet Place into this powerful metaphor; the performances of the whole cast are superb. Millicent Simmonds is the young actress who plays Regan. She not only acts her role with maturity and depth, but being deaf herself she engaged in the sign language training of the other cast members. She steals the scene from Krasinski and Blunt in several places, including during one incredibly powerful exchange between herself and the actor/director. Krasinski is an experienced professional, but instead of effortlessly dominating his screen time he instead focuses on evoking authentic and moving portrayals from Simmonds and Jupe. Blunt’s internalised strength and commitment to her children conveys the sense of hope for the Abbott family’s future that we desperately need to believe in, a hope that in some places of the film has almost disappeared completely.
That is not to say A Quiet Place is not without its flaws – there are several plot holes, as well as some loud errors in consistency and logic across the film – but in the end, the whole thing has been put together so well and has been so clearly written to be more than just a monster movie that you can forgive those flaws by the time the credits roll.
You may not like A Quiet Place for its storyline and the nagging questions that it often doesn’t quite tie up, or for some of the ethical decisions of its characters (here’s looking at you, Blunt belly bulge), but if you’re a real fan of the cinematic experience then you will love this movie, and should hurry (quietly) to see it before it’s too late. A Quiet Place proves that John Krasinski is not just that nice guy from The Office, but an accomplished auteur who may prove to do big things in years to come.
Runtime: 90 Minutes
Director: John Krasinski
Starring: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe