It’s not often the cinema’s a quiet place…. guzzling, slurping, talking, rustling. Who doesn’t long for a monster in the dark to home in on the sound and kill it? Only me, maybe. And John Krasinski, the director of A Quiet Place, a well-crafted thriller where sightless creatures zero in on every sound you make.
It’s day 89 since whatever it was happened. News-cuttings in a country cabin suggest a disastrous invasion. And the discovery, too late for most, that the monsters have super-sensory hearing. But society is ill-equipped for silence. And the survivors remain, scattered in separate homesteads, where every word and sound bring a terrible end. For Evelyn and Lee Abbott, played by real-life couple Emily Blunt and John Krasinski - and their young family - it’s survival of the quietest.
A Quiet Place is a curious film. Billed and reviewed as a horror film, it really isn’t. Scary at times, it’s entirely bloodless, working its suspense through the steady build-up of threat and release. But this is no Psycho, let alone a more definable monster movie like Cloverfield or Aliens. If anything, it’s Jaws – believable characters, a family tested to breaking point, creatures hardly seen; or Duel, a nameless threat, a nerve-edged life, civilisation in the balance. It’s more Spielberg than splatter.
The most thrilling part of A Quiet Place isn’t the hunt, it’s the deeply human depiction of a family adapting with resolve and hopefulness. And the gradual reveal of the resourcefulness that might just give them a chance. Unlike most scary movies, there’s a positive vibe. Young daughter Regan is deaf and the whole family’s resort to sign language is expressive of their bond and their adaptable will to survive. Husband and wife dance to the music of a shared iPod headset. Children play Monopoly, careful to silence the dice. It’s a family under stress, closeness constrained. More so since tragedy struck.
Guilt, longing, sacrifice, responsibility – these are the thrum of the movie. A refreshing change from scary films more reliant on violence and gore. A bit tame for some horror aficionados, maybe. But its tautness, and the focus on a family in peril, is key to the film’s success. As it was to Gareth Edwards’ Monsters (2010), an equally thoughtful survival movie, screwed-down to two characters.
At 90 minutes long, the film knows two things. Its central conceit is suited to a pared-down, nothing-wasted approach. And the soundscape has to deliver – which is does. Stifling a scream when you tread on a nail, the perils of pregnancy when you can’t give birth to a noise: Emily Blunt’s physical performance is excellent – internalising the pain to save her family. Less success fully Krasinski can’t resist jump-scares and cheap, bang-crash jolts recycled from many a movie.
But a grain silo hide-and-seek between the kids and the creatures is intense. Laudable too for letting the children take centre stage – standing up for each other, willing to sacrifice themselves. Daughter Regan, Millicent Simmonds (Wonderstruck) is the film’s beating heart and Krasinski fought to cast her. A deaf actress, she taught the rest of the cast sign language, and her gutsy performance - as an adult in the making - is terrific and key to the film’s trajectory.
When the monsters appear, they’re icky enough but nothing new. A cross between the creatures of Predator and the spindly ones from Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. A basement scare owes a lot to Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, as does the film itself.
Ironically for a piece about silence, A Quiet Place is a talked-about movie. And rightly so. An entertaining thriller, it’s a scary movie for anyone who doesn’t like horror films. A family drama with optimism and heart, it’s the polar opposite of downbeat movies like The Mist (2007). And kudos to Krasinksi, he’s reportedly made cinemas go quiet - snacks unmunched, pop unguzzled...