Where Silence Has Lease
Warning: This review alludes to aspects of the plot, including the ending.
A Quiet Place has a novel horror-cum-thriller premise – blind, aurally hypersensitive monsters who attack and kill anything that makes a loud noise have overrun the world, forcing the few human survivors to tip toe through life. Consequently, the beast that lives in the head of serious filmgoers, that slaughters those who talk, rustle, munch, stomp up and down the aisle and check text messages, is literalised on screen for the first time.
John Krasinski’s masterclass in tension building and sound design; perhaps the most effective marriage of the two since Coppola’s The Conversation, is a vivid nightmare that 99% of its target audience couldn’t survive, and who’d miss them? But one laments the inevitable diminution of the theatrical experience for genre aficionados, wanting to drink in every creak, smash and buzz, only to have most of it drowned out by in-cinema noise pollution; a task akin to hearing someone next to a waterfall.
The writing team of Krasinski (who also stars), Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, have fashioned a screenplay that extracts the maximum jeopardy from a scenario antithetical to modern life and manners. Not for us the tale of a subdued older couple who like to spend their days reading and gently digging up potatoes from their self-sufficiency garden – no. Instead, Krasinski and Emily Blunt are the parents of three children, one deaf just to complicate matters (and provide a great third act payoff), with another on the way.
From the off something natural and celebratory is inverted to great effect; a pregnancy as ticking time bomb. How do you give birth in silence or keep your baby quiet when it comes? Alright, the Abbots (note the religious overtones) are more innovative than most. In an example of film’s clockwork God giving them every advantage, Dad’s a practical, innovative type, who’s managed to procure sophisticated radio equipment and full spectrum CCTV. Mum’s medically savvy. And they all live in a farm house surrounded by acres of long grass and a sound masking river nearby. If that’s not enough, the estate boasts a corn tower for surveillance and nature’s bounty as an early warning system.
One dreads to think what a family of socially uneducated slobs would have done, but it’s enough to assume that they’re all dead. In this way, the unnamed creatures of A Quiet Place are both menacing throughout and savagely Darwinian. The world, we imagine, will be a lot more middle class and considerate when they leave.
There’s something reminiscent of an old M Night Shyamalan movie here; it recalls Signs, which in turn was a Hitchcock tribute; retooling a child’s disability as the in-plain-sight answer to a seemingly intractable alien-invasion problem. But A Quiet Place is pleasingly straightforward, eschewing tricksy plotting for great technique. It’s meticulously directed, the foley is as sharp and crowd pleasing as the finest Mamet dialogue, and Krasinski doesn’t neglect the emotional core of the film – the family vying to survive, whose tensions, divisions and turmoil we experience in near silence, but with great expressivity and economy.
The cast give measured, naturalistic performances – a smart, low-key choice that allows the heightened atmosphere generated around them to do its evil work on your nerves. The rest is silence.