- A Quiet Place
The background for A Quiet Place seems like the sort of surreal dream you might have after eating too much spicy food and watching Predator, Signs, and The Village back-to-back-to-back: Jim (John Krasinski) from The Office directs, helps write, and stars in a movie with Emily (Emily Blunt) the superficial assistant from The Devil Wears Prada, but in this film they both live in a post-apocalyptic landscape terrorized by blind creatures that attack and kill anything making the slightest sound. Krasinski and Blunt, who are married in real life, play the married couple of Lee Abbott and Evelyn Abbott who navigate this strange world while trying to protect their children and each other (All of the actors and actresses give good performances, but Emily Blunt’s acting is excellent).
This a horror film for people who don’t really watch a lot of horror. There are only so many ways and times you can see people get sliced, diced, murdered, burned, tortured, and so forth. While there is enough horror for people who primarily want horror, the real hook is the premise of living in a world in which, for example, stepping on a single leaf can bring about a sudden fatality. Ordinary, domestic events carry the possibility of peril. Every action, no matter how small, is filled with tension because any action may summon a monster. How does such a world function and how does one function within that world? Compounding the difficulties are the Abbott’s children of various ages and Evelyn’s pregnancy. If something as simple and common as sneeze can place an adult at risk, what does one do with children or an infant?
The earlier part of the film explores how the Abbotts manage all of this. They scavenge deserted places for what they need. To keep quiet they don’t wear shoes and cover paths they commonly walk on with dirt to dampen any possible noises. All the while they try to keep some semblance of normalcy as they play board games, have dinner together, and learn new skills (note the board in the background with lines from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18” marked with metrical stresses above them). But their overriding concern is keeping their family safe. Their plan to keep the baby safe is as smart as it is disturbing. Their daughter is deaf—and played by a deaf actress—which presents its own challenges; among others she can’t know for sure if she is making noise or not. As a result, the family communicates primarily in sign language. There aren’t many words, so they all carry more meaning.
Watching this in the theater is a unique experience. Because so much of the film is silent any noise is highlighted. For the audience this silence amplifies the customary theater noises of people moving, eating, and so forth. We can’t rely on the usual sounds of a movie to mask our fiddling and fumbling. The considerate moviegoer, therefore, takes great pains not to make any unnecessary noise—just like the Abbotts. We are all trying not to be noticed. Other than soft little sounds, the first significant sound in the movie is a flowing river. After so much silence, the rushing water seems raucous.
Krasinki has talked about how one of the movie’s themes is family/parenthood and protecting family at any cost. However, these are not the only themes. Another one is the consequences of living within a delicate, sensitive, and anxious family dynamic that one’s life depends upon maintaining. Be silent or be killed. Each family member must be careful, cautious, and always aware of the effects of self-expression, acting out, or doing anything independently of the group. Furthermore, the film demonstrates that each person much engage in behavior that goes beyond mere caution. Each person in the group must second-guess and micromanage both themselves and others. After all, each family member’s life depends on the other family members. Every action carries a potential consequence. Every mistake carries a price. Living at all times inside an environment that allows very little room for error must be exhausting, even debilitating.
So much of the movie is about sound. In an era in which we must be increasingly alert and cautious about what we say and who hears it combined with the awareness that so many surveillance methods surround and monitor us, it’s natural to connect A Quiet Place with the pressures, limitations, and self-censoring effects of a surveillance state.
Some viewers and critics are drawing comparisons between A Quiet Place and The Blair Witch Project. A Quiet Place has a larger budget and many more special effects than The Blair Witch Project, which had virtually none of either. No one would ever believe A Quiet Place could be made from found footage. However, both movies share high levels of innovation and originality.
A Quiet Place may not become a cultural phenomenon as The Blair Witch Project did, but it will help remind everyone that audiences will notice and respond to small details, carefully designed settings, moments of emotional significance, and three-dimensional characters as much or more as they will to blood, guts, violence, and splashy effects. A Quiet Place is smart horror.
Although the film lays enough groundwork near the end that we can pretty well figure out how the immediate conflicts will probably resolve, it ends too abruptly.
Apr 10 2018
I still buy compact discs.
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