Sometimes the simplest premises have the most memorable results. I don’t think A QUIET PLACE is a game-changer for the horror or sci-fi genres, but it is very good at what it does. It also makes me want to see John Krasinski and Emily Blunt apply the lessons of their real-life marriage to more of their work.
The Abbott family live a quiet life, not out of choice, but out of necessity. The world has been invaded by deadly creatures that hunt by sound, and the Abbotts struggle for survival has already dealt them their share of pain, but it isn’t going to get any easier with a baby on the way…
The stakes in this post-apocalypse are clear from the off as we see the ingenious DIY systems the family have developed to avoid unnecessary sound, from sand tracks along their walking routes outside to painted floorboards taking you on the least squeaky route throughout the house and eating all meals from leaves to avoid clattering.
Never mind the space monsters, to derive real drama A Quiet Place confronts issues every family faces in macrocosm. A simple belligerent family tiff becomes a death sentence, growing pains and not feeling like you belong are more-massive-than-usual hurdles to overcome.
It’s more tense than truly scary, but effectively building tension is a craft, and not an easy one. For every JAWS that gets it just right, you get a JAWS 2 that completely botches it. A Quiet Place gets that there’s a rhythm to tension and exploits our expectations of that rhythm to extremely good effect.
The best and worst person you could be stuck with in a soundless apocalypse is someone without their hearing. Regan (Millicent Simmonds) may not have the same temptation to speak as the rest of her family, but she also can’t hear any danger coming or any sound she inadvertently makes without seeing the reaction of others.
Good sound design is such an essential, and often underrated aspect of the filmmaking process. It’s such a neat little idea to have the sound cut out completely every time we shift to Regan’s point of view. It works stylistically as a method of differentiation but also adds to the tension as we’ve no idea (along with her) how much noise she is making. It’s a gimmick that could stood to have been used a bit more liberally to drive the point home and make the film stand out, much the same as HUSH from a couple of years back.
Lee’s only concern is the protection of his family, but that drive does bring with it some old-fashioned views. He’d sooner train his scaredy-cat son (Noah Jupe) up as the next hunter-gatherer than his much tougher, more practical daughter, because it’s what the boys are supposed to do and the girls aren’t. Regan and Evelyn really do get to show what they’re capable of in kick-ass fashion before the credits roll, so Lee’s fears were unfounded.
There’s a certain amount of acceptance in Regan’s notion of self; though her dad would sooner “fix” her with improvised hearing aides she has long since come to terms with her disability and now seems to see it as part of who she is (“Just. Stop!”). Simmonds sells this expression of self-acceptance 100% and acts everyone else off the screen.
The monsters, seemingly like a lot we’re seeing on TV and film lately, look like a cross between the CLOVERFIELD monster and the demogorgon from STRANGER THINGS. The word of the day for monster design at the moment seems to be “spindly”. I’d have liked to see a more original monster, but there you are.
A Quiet Place is an extremely effective thriller. It’s also love letter to, and demonstration of the power of, the most unappreciated aspects of filmmaking. Add to this a very real-feeling and compelling family chemistry and I completely understand why this made such a big splash with audiences. Definitely worth a look. SSP