A Quiet Place (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Director John Krasinski encourages viewers to imagine living in a world where one must learn to exist with making as minimal noise as possible. Because failing to adhere to a certain decibel level relative to the baseline sound of the environment almost certainly results in monstrous creatures running toward the source of detectable noise. What better way to entangle us into this universe than employing silence to give to us room to ponder and consider. It is so engrossing, eventually we are conditioned to look at a room and note every object that might create the slightest noise. It is a high-caliber survival story.
To call a movie “adrenaline-fueled” is a wilted cliché, but it is most appropriate here. During its well-written and consistently well-timed rising action, when a family of four (Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe), initially a family of five, is thrusted into one horrific situation after another, it felt as if I had run several laps around the theater. I could feel my heartbeat pulsating out of my chest in both anticipation and reaction; it is clear that the material understands the critical balance of suspense (anticipation) and thrill (reaction). It knows how to engage the viewer at the most primal level—and it is not just because a family we grow to care about is in mortal danger. We imagine ourselves in their shoes, how we might react given a set of extremely challenging circumstances.
Although a horror film, we are inspired not to look away—a trait that genre greats tend to have in common. The reason is because although we might be terrified of what is unfolding in front of our very eyes, our innate curiosity to learn or discover overpowers our fears. And so we look on. This is a horror project that invites rather than repels—which is so beautiful to come across because this approach is now a rarity in modern, certainly mainstream, horror filmmaking. Nowadays, it is more about parading guts and gore or shaking the camera relentlessly rather than building upon the threat until the inevitable boiling point.
The picture’s excellence lies in its willingness to take its time. Observe the key scene where the father decides to take his son by the river. While there, they must wade through water, open traps, and acquire fish. But the son, clearly traumatized by what tends to happen when they make noise, would not even get in the water. The father recognizes that forcing the boy isn’t the right way to go. And so they share a conversation, a quiet moment in a not-so-quiet place, in which it is implied that the timid youngest must learn to push through his apprehension in order to learn and survive. I argue that this sensitive moment is the heart of the picture. Although there is no action, and it is important there isn’t one so we get a chance to focus on both the images and what is being communicated, it wonderfully captures what the story is about. No, it is not about monsters killing people.
Time will tell whether “A Quiet Place” is a modern classic. In my eyes, it already is. Its premise is creative, its execution most entertaining, and it is highly efficient in communicating what it hopes to accomplish. In addition, it dares viewers to observe every scene as if it were a visual novel; it assumes that we are intelligent by avoiding to spell out every beat, pause, and implication. And it reminds us that sound need not be used so much in film given that every other element is elevated.