You know it’s an odd weekend when you have consecutive films that rely heavily on the sound designers to make them succeed. Whereas You Were Never Really Here assaulted and bombarded the audience with a cacophony of chaotic noise to show us just how tormented Joaquin Phoenix’s character was, here in John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place, silence is the only thing preventing horrific slaughter. And in both cases, the effort pays massive dividends.
Krasinski directs, co-writes, and stars in this highly creative horror show alongside his wife, Emily Blunt. They play parents to three children: a pre-teen daughter who’s deaf with a cochlear implant, as well as two younger sons who are verbally communicative. Set about five years in the future in rural upstate New York, the family is among the remnants of a community that has been decimated (a microcosm of the rest of the world) by ravenous creatures who cannot see, but hunt and kill humans based on super sensitive hearing.
The monsters remain unseen for about half of the film’s 90-minute run time, showing up only in flashes and jump scares as they attack. No one knows where they came from, and only a few newspaper clippings hint at what the world at large has learned about them.
As father, Lee (their names are never spoken aloud in the film), Krasinski has created a world of silence around his home. Rooms are padded, sand is used to line every walking path around his property and the town, and he works ceaselessly to figure out a way to defeat the creatures and possibly broadcast an S.O.S. through daughter Regan’s (Millicent Simmonds of Wonderstruck, who is naturally deaf herself) implant. Son Marcus (Noah Jupe of Suburbicon) lives in constant fear of the outside world, while mother Evelyn (Blunt), prepares for the birth of the family’s fourth child after an early tragedy.
The lengths Krasinski and his sound team go to in making this world is amazing. For the opening sequence, where the family roots around a drug store for supplies, the film is so quiet that I could literally hear every minor sound coming from the other people in the auditorium. At one point I couldn’t help but meticulously fold my candy wrapper so as to make as little sound as possible, both to be courteous, but also because the atmosphere was just that tense.
Before long, of course, the monsters have to be drawn out of hiding, and the methods of doing so are set up beautifully. A child’s toy, an oil lamp tipping over, an old man mourning his lost wife, a painful barefoot step on a nail. It all works so well, and the performances of Krasinski and Blunt do a lot of heavy lifting with facial expression alone. Most of the dialogue comes in the form of American Sign Language for obvious reasons. There’s not a spoken line until over a half hour in, and even then, it’s to demonstrate the sound dynamic in an outdoor location. Again, kudos to the audio team.
Once the creatures are shown in full, a bit of their mystique goes away. The CGI isn’t bad, but my guess is it won’t hold up in a few years’ time. Also, it doesn’t help when the score intrudes with typical scary movie trope cues, telegraphing the jump scares so obviously that the suspense is drained from the moment, whereas the more silent scenes in the first two acts allowed some legitimately scary bits to be well delivered. Still, the monsters are menacing, and the revelation of how to survive/defeat them is paced extremely well.
Still, there are some head-scratching flaws in the film, which I chalk up to Krasinski’s involvement in previous Michael Bay productions (Bay co-produced this film as well – in my fantasy world he does it as a profuse thank you/apology for making Krasinski ham it up in that terrible Benghazi movie). For example, there’s no exposition that hints at the creatures being able to affect electricity, yet as they draw closer the lights constantly flicker on and off inconsistently (and more often towards the end), I guess to create tension? There’s also a scene straight out of the Michael Bay trope playbook when Regan goes to visit a memorial, with the shot lined up center and panning down to a homemade cross surrounded by firetrucks and other patriotic toys, cause, America, I suppose. This is by far the best movie to have Michael Bay’s name attached to it in over a decade, but that doesn’t excuse some of the lazier elements that can be directly attributed to his, let’s say “influence.”
Finally, and I apologize in advance because I’m about to say something very crass, but given the world these people live in, why in God’s name would you have another child? Surely there were some condoms in that opening scene drug store, or some pills? Maybe even a coat hanger as a last resort? Do you know what kind of noise babies make? The family spends a lot of time preparing a soundproof cellar for the baby, but let’s be realistic. George Carlin said it best: “Survival is more important than fucking!” At some point you’re just asking to die! Also, as a side note, how awkward and unpleasant would the forced silent sex be to make that kid?
All that said, this was a fun movie, very well crafted, with some legit scares. The sound team went above and beyond, and Krasinski has shown he can handle himself behind the camera as well as in front of it.
Join the conversation in the comments below? What film should I review next? What was the last truly scary movie you saw? Are you fantasizing a sequel with other Office alums being fed to these monsters like I am? Let me know!