Horror movies are at their best when they take a frightening premise and use it to explore humanity. Get Out is a chilling look at cultural appropriation and marginalization of minorities. The Babadook personifies depression and loss in a horrifying, all-to-real way. A Quiet Place, much like The Conjuring or The Exorcist, doesn’t just successfully scare you into a change of pants, but also examines just how far families are willing to go for one another in the most dire of circumstances.
A Quiet Place is set in the near future, when monsters have invaded and thrown the world into dystopia. These monsters are also hyper sensitive to sound, meaning any and all noise you make will likely be your demise. It sounds simple at first, but terrifying the more you think about it.
This is a fun (if that’s the right word) premise that director John Krasinski uses in very creative and inventive ways. Throughout the entire runtime of the film, you’re reminded just how much noise we actually make in our daily routine. Whether it’s walking barefoot on sand trails, eating off lettuce leaves instead of plates, or lining the inside of a sink with towels to do laundry, you realize how easy it would be to accidentally make a noise.
The film is rarely in your face about it though. Rather than characters sitting around explaining why they eat off of lettuce, or swapped the real Monopoly pieces for felt ones, Krasinski opts for a putting these details in the background, letting us the audience spot them for ourselves. This also establishes the “new normal” for the family. So much of their life looks familiar, yet we notice something a bit off, and we get to figure out exactly what that dissonance is.
The subtlety doesn’t just stop with the visual details, as this movie is a sonic masterpiece. The entire opening sequence is near silent, and the tension ratchets up until the first noise is eventually made. Every step, every breath, basically anything anyone does, puts them in danger. Sitting in the theater, I found myself holding my breath for the characters. Hypersensitive to the movements I was making for fear I would cause them to come under harm.
This makes the decision to include a noise very powerful. In some cases, it turns suspense into dread, in others, it’s a much needed release. The characters come up with creative ways to hide or cover the noise they make, and when they are allowed to speak, you’re finally able to exhale. Not for long though, as the film tight, 90-minute run time keeps things moving at a healthy, unrelenting speed.
For a movie based on silence, the score plays a very different but crucial role. The score in most horror movies is what actually makes them scary. Think of the classic horror scores like Halloween, Jaws, or Psycho. Without the soundtrack many of the most terrifying scene’s would be less impact, if not downright comical. Often, if you watch any horror movie with the sound turned off, it loses what makes it scary, the exact opposite is true with A Quiet Place.
One of the family members is deaf, and when the film switches to her perspective, the sound design does as well. When the focus is on her, there is no sound; not the score, not the effects, nothing. These are the most frightening scenes in the movie because you can’t tell if a character is making noise or not. Any movement could be her last, and neither she, nor the audience, has anyway of knowing.
Part of what makes this film so horrifying is how much we want these characters to survive. Too often horror movies include a throwaway character that can die early on to set up the threat, and then assume we want the rest to survive simply because they’re who we’re following. A Quiet Place doesn’t go down that route. Every character is special, well thought out, and developed to the point a we can latch on to.
Not only do we care for each character, but Krazinski also shows us how much they mean to each other. The family dynamic is by far this films biggest strength, and often what leads to so much tension. The scenes where the family just gets to be a family are great, but when the monsters come calling, you fear for them all the more. No one is getting left behind, meaning characters are constantly putting themselves in harms way to protect one another.
If this same movie came out with it’s main cast swapped out for the standard group of teenagers, you’d constantly be asking yourself why these kids are such idiots. But love makes you do stupid, dangerous things. It’s completely rational that a family would act so irrational to try and keep each other alive. I can’t understate this: This is one of the best written and cast families in film I’ve seen in years.
A Quiet Place is a beautiful examination of what families will do when pushed to the edge. It’s a thrilling and scary movie, but it’s creative premise would be rendered fairly inert if Krazinski hadn’t done such a masterful job creating a very genuine family dynamic. It may have some goofy moments or less-than-perfect internal logic, but that doesn’t take away from the spectacular work on display.
Rating: 4.5 — Phenomenal