Horror appears to be undergoing a real renaissance recently, with some top drawer films giving us different genre twists (particularly the Oscar-winning Get Out). A Quiet Place is a fantastic continuation of this trend, with great acting, some incredible tension and a really unique approach to scaring audiences.
In the early 2020s, an extraterrestrial invasion has seen creatures that hunt based on sound decimate the planet’s population. Lee (John Krasinksi) and Evelyn (Emily Blunt) live in near silence with children Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe), straining to keep quiet lest they be hunted down.
Krasinski (who most people would know from the US Office sitcom) directs, stars and had a part in writing A Quiet Place, and in all three areas proves a revelation. The movie feels assured, especially when reaching fever pitch, and his handle of the unique, mostly dialogue-less events onscreen (as well as his work with the small but brilliant cast) is a huge part of what makes it work.
The script, written by Krasinski, Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, feels almost indie and quite brave – a big Hollywood horror with barely any dialogue whatsoever, outside of American Sign Language? It’s almost unthinkable that this got approved by the usually risk averse Paramount, but the scripting and staging is very clever, and poignant too.
More is said effectively in glances and facial expressions than pages of dialogue might have, while snatches of newspapers or evocative post-apocalyptic imagery fill us in on as much of the backstory as we need. What’s more important, and what comes across strongly, is the family’s bond, and their great strains to remain quiet but live as normal a life as they can.
The film’s rural American setting adds a great deal of depth, the archetypal corn fields and silos, lonely farmhouses and wildernesses accentuating everything and making the world feel tangible. Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s cinematography embraces a bleak, outdoorsy feel, dramatic sunsets and sun kissed days alike paired with the constant, unrelenting stress of increasing tension, while the artificial tinge of salvaged Christmas lights starkly illuminate the perilous nights.
Tension – my god does this film have tension. The combined work of sound editors Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van Der Ryn, composer Marco Beltrami and Krasinki oppresses you in your seat, as the stakes rise higher and higher. Amongst the softer parts of the soundtrack and silent cast, one almost inconsequential sound signals potential doom, and Beltrami’s score shifts to wavering, bassy threats (a trend heard in Assassin’s Creed and Blade Runner 2049 – perhaps the new Inception “BRAAAAM”).
Once these moments happen, everything escalates, and there’s a particular stretch in the middle of the film that is excruciating. It’s absolutely fascinating to perceive a coming together of these elements to create this, and shows how clever Krasinksi’s eye and ear for detail are. He had already made a couple of movies, but given how well this is doing on a tiny budget, expect to see much more from him.
The minimal, close knit cast is the final piece of the puzzle. Krasinski portrays Lee as a gruff but loving dad, a man driven to keep his family alive with ever more inventive schemes, practically burning himself out to find a way out of this mess, and having never seen him outside of a comedy I was very impressed with his intensity.
Emily Blunt (Krasinski’s real life wife) is however the star, and shows that even without dialogue, she is a fantastic actress. In that aforementioned tense stretch of the movie, she is the centrepoint, absolutely throwing herself into extremely stressful events and selling them without a doubt. In the smaller, quieter scenes she’s no less impactful, her expressive face switching in a beat (and doing much more than dialogue would achieve).
Young deaf actress Millicent Simmonds is also really impressive as Regan, the couple’s teenage daughter. She effortlessly conveys teenage angst and sadness, trapped in silence, with Aadahl and Van Der Ryn’s editing giving us her soundless perspective on everything befalling her family, and her frustrations and terror at being shut out.
Finally, Noah Jupe completes the cast as Marcus, the younger kid, a young boy with the world on his shoulders as he’s forced to start growing up and taking responsibility. The young actor’s scenes alongside Krasinki and Simmonds are very strong, and much credit again has to go to Krasinki for casting – which in a film this small could have gone very wrong.
If there is anything to knock, it has to be the CGI creatures. It’s obviously necessary once you see them, but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Had the film allowed for practical monsters, it’s likely that it could have been even more tense and arguably more frightening (not to mention: the less you see in horror, the more frightening it can be, as your imagination fills in the gaps).
I can’t recommend A Quiet Place enough – it’s clever, very well acted and incredibly tense throughout its 90 minutes. If you’re lucky enough to have a popcorn or paper bag free screening, it’ll be even more of an experience, but don’t let that put you off! It’s a must-see on the big screen if you can handle it.