THE SOUND OF VIOLENCE
A QUIET PLACE (15)
Director: John Krasinski
Screenplay: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck
Starring: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds
Review: David Stephens
And so the very pleasing (and well-deserved) resurgence of horror at the mainstream cinema is given another boost at the box-office, with this unorthodox take on the genre. With such recent films as “Get Out” and “IT” validating the artistic merits and modern relevancy of horror to all cinemagoers (something which the hardcore community has always known anyway), here comes “A Quiet Place” to please the critics and thrill audiences around the world. Building a buzz ever since it premiered at this year’s SXSW festival, the film comes from a surprising source; namely an actor from the US version of “The Office” and the future Mary Poppins. That is of course, an unfair way to say that it’s directed by John Krasinski, and stars both him and his actress wife Emily Blunt. Both are talented personalities, but this is an inaugural foray into scary territory for Krasinski (a self-avowed late-comer to the joys of the genre) and is the first time Blunt has been in a horror movie since Joe Johnston’s largely forgotten “The Wolf Man” in 2010. It could have all gone so horribly wrong… and yet it’s all gone so terribly right. Now in cinemas across the US and UK, YGROY bans the popcorn, calls for silence, and goes to its “Quiet Place”…
It starts in 2020, 92 days after an unspecified cataclysmic event. Evelyn Abbott (Blunt) and her children are padding quietly around a drugstore in a deserted US town. As she picks up some antibiotics for her sick son (Noah Jupe as Marcus), her husband Lee (Krasinski) turns up to warn the kids to remain quiet. However, their journey home is not uneventful… The plot then jumps a year forward in time, with the Abbott family together in their homestead, and still observing a strict silence. By now we have gradually learnt that the world has become infested with some form of alien creature that hunts any living being via sound. Apparently indestructible and completely ruthless, the Abbotts survive the attentions of the predators only by being completely self-sufficient and communicating in sign language. But Evelyn is pregnant with another child and oldest daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) is becoming frustrated with her own lack of hearing and her place in the family. Things will come to a head as the Abbotts find themselves inadvertently attracting the attentions of their deadly neighbours once again…
As we write this, AQP has had the "second biggest domestic debut of 2018" in the US, which is only beaten by Marvel’s “Black Panther” believe it or not. It’s a mighty accomplishment to be sure and well deserved, with $71m already earned worldwide against a $17m budget. There’s a very good reason for this. It’s hit the zeitgeist in several ways; it picked up great reviews and word-of-mouth which started at SXSW, it’s an accomplished horror with recognisable stars, it has a clever scenario (a near wordless screenplay) which isn’t wasted as just a gimmick, and it’s a well-made film with depth and some genuine tension. Oh, and it has some great monsters, which always helps.
Krasinski himself has asserted that the film is primarily about the challenges of parenthood, but obviously with some creature-people-killing complications. And it’s this heart and a great attention to detail that makes the film stand out. There are loads of neat little touches that fill the scenes; exposition by newspapers (“It’s Sound!!”, “Dark Angels are Indestructible!”), the beacons lit periodically by homesteads to let their neighbours know they’re still alive, the paths of sand laid to cushion their footsteps, the fate of an old couple the Abbotts come across. It’s a brilliant example of how to tell a story without resorting to minutes of needless speeches. Other clever touches include the way that the (already sparse) sounds mute on the soundtrack when Regan is the focus of the story, and the way in which some sounds dominate the proceedings when important (the hum of electricity, the heartbeat of an unborn child).
The traits of children are explored in an innovative way as well. One child’s blissful and blatant disregard for the “rules” and another’s rebellious nature, come to the front in realistic and emotional ways that touch upon real-life examples. At the centre of this lie the performances of Blunt and Krasinski. Both are superb, and completely nail the umpteen moments where speech is not option and have to resort to facial expressions or sign language. Blunt has to confront the mind-bending possibility of having to give birth or bear pain without screaming (and even manages to crack a couple of sound-free gags). Krasinski is the perfect father, caring even when it hurts…and frankly owning the best movie beard since Kurt Russell beat “The Thing”. Full marks to (the genuinely deaf) Simmonds as well who, along with the believably conflicted Jupe, gives a well-judged and mature performance that matches their older colleagues.
This all comes together with some brilliant sequences that are genuinely knuckle-chewing in their intensity, as the creatures’ prowl and hunt the family. Sensibly shown only as blurs at the start, their design is pretty cool and scary, even though they obviously owe a great deal to several classic movie monsters. Their origin is never explained, nor does it need to be. They just “are”, and their existence casts a constant shadow over the survivors in this harsh world. It’s no wonder this was mooted as a “Cloverfield” sequel at one point, which was genuinely nearly the case if you believe some reports. But it isn’t, we hasten to add. The unnamed creatures are cool and totally horrific though.
If there’s any criticism that just stops it from becoming a 5-star film, it’s just that a few minor inconsistencies crop up (where does the electricity come from if not a noisy generator?), and that a couple of emotional and situational beats push it a bit too far into B-Movie territory or Lifetime family drama. But this is a matter of opinion and only happens on very few occasions. And even so there’s a killer of a final shot, which is so good that you applaud the studio for not making Krasinski tag on any further scenes or a post-credit sequence…
It is undoubtedly a great movie and has seen such luminaries as Stephen King already come out in praise of its achievements. For those worried that it’s a gimmicky and possibly dull “silent” film, it most definitely isn’t. There are some sparse moments of talking, and it manages to have a great soundtrack (from composer Marco Beltrami) that accentuates the moods of the scenes rather than distract from them. It “feels” like a complete film and not one exploiting one simple idea. You’re never in any doubt as to what’s happening and what dangers the characters are in. This is exemplified in moments such as that-bit-with-the-nail and the scene in the grain silo. It really is terrific in many ways and possibly the next must-see genre experience after “The Shape of Water”… if you want to water-cooler-chat with the cool kids that is. You can only hope that Krasinski returns to the genre soon after this. With him and Jordan Peele, maybe the future of mainstream horror lies with US TV comedy actors. Hear, hear…