Be sure to see this movie with the right crowd.
Sound is everything in horror. With a creak of the floorboards, it teases that unseen thing around the corner. With a heart-racing jolt in the score accompanying a shocking image on screen, the classic “jump scare” can be easily accomplished. A Quiet Place turns this concept on its head with a simple switch-up in approach: what if silence dominated the soundscape instead?
The film opens with a family of five venturing amongst the eerie emptiness of a post-apocalyptic environment. Uncomfortably noiseless, the opening 10 minutes or so of A Quiet Place expertly encapsulate the silent, suspenseful journey the film plans to take its audience on. Characters communicate in sign language. Fear ignites in their eyes at the prospect of a loud noise being accidentally produced. As this opening sequence concludes, we discover why sound is such a problem, as this family of five quickly becomes a family of four.
Cut to a year later, where the remaining members of the Abbott family—father Lee (John Krasinski), mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt), daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and son Marcus (Noah Jupe)—continue to persevere in a world where giant creatures (looking like an unoriginal mix between the Xenomorphs of Alien, the Graboids of Tremors and countless other creature feature icons) hunt their human prey through sound. “If they hear you, they hunt you,” reads the tagline of the film, and due to this well-implemented gimmick, a fair chunk of the movie’s running time is appropriately, unnervingly silent.
When sounds do occur, they are often quite terrifying as A Quiet Place is essentially a survivalist tale where an uncompromised hush is the key to staying alive. A toy rocket going off, a lantern crashing onto the floor—these things become even more frightening because when silence is broken, our characters (who come off as an extremely likeable clan worth rooting for) immediately enter an adrenaline-pumping survival mode. As such, the status of their endurance is the most suspenseful aspect of A Quiet Place.
The film is a quintessential embodiment of a famous Alfred Hitchcock quote where he discusses the key differences between “surprise” and “suspense,” the latter being key for producing quality cinematic tension. In paraphrase, Hitchcock described a scene where two people are having a conversation at a table and (with no warning to the audience) a bomb explodes from underneath. Surprise. But if the audience is aware of this ticking time bomb for the entirety of the characters’ conversation, the tension escalates as viewers bite their fingernails and scream at the screen, “Stop talking! There’s a bomb under there!” Suspense.
Tension defines this clever and well-crafted creature feature, and director John Krasinski has found a comfortable niche where his efforts as a director truly shine, especially after his first two works (the misguided David Foster Wallace-adaptation Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and the unbearable indie-assault The Hollars). With A Quiet Place, the thematic mechanisms mostly work while the filmmaking stays true to the story’s pressure-cooker vibe without ever exploding itself. Losing itself a bit in the third act, the film succumbs to a handful of clichés along with some ham-fisted egotism where John Krasinski the director seems far too interested in John Krasinski the actor. But overall, this is taut, precise thriller-filmmaking that keeps the audience on their toes.
As a final note, be sure to see this movie with the right crowd (i.e. a respectful one). In today’s movie-going environment, a film with such a meticulous and minimalist sound palette is sure to be constantly sullied by the crinkles of popcorn bags, the last slurps of soda and that rudely chattering asshole who you wish the creature from the film would attack. This film is arguably best for an at-home viewing, curled up in the confines of your couch with nothing to distract you. To fully enjoy A Quiet Place in theaters, your satisfaction will likely be directly linked to whether the theater is a quiet place as well.