US | 2018 | Directed by John Krasinski
Logline: In a decimated near-future a lone family must try to survive ferocious alien creatures who hunt using acute hearing.
Another in the recent trend of what are referred to as “elevated horror” movies, where social metaphor or a social-political context is used as a subtextual commentary to lift what is considered to be a base genre. Generally I don’t have time for this kind of pseudo-soapbox rationale, just deliver us a great horror movie that either terrifies its audience, or horrifies its audience, or, even better, does both. In the case of this spare and concise tale of extraordinary parenthood, the bar has been raised to a decent height, even if I do have a few issues with the writing.
The Abbott family; Lee (John Krasinski), wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt), deaf teenager Regan (Millicent Simmonds), sickly son Marcus (Noah Jupe), and youngest, Beau (Cade Woodward) travel, barefoot, and in silent conversation, from township to township, each one derelict. They pick up supplies, and make their way to an abandoned farmhouse where they plan to set up camp for awhile. The world has been invaded by huge, crustacean-like extra-terrestrial beasts that are blind, but hunt relentlessly by using massive, acute earholes, and sport mouths full of razor-sharp teeth. To describe these creatures as frightening is an understatement.
Tragedy strikes, and the family are burdened with grief. But Evelyn is pregnant, and Lee is determined to develop a hearing device for his daughter that works. They are survivalists, pragmatic and smart. But the alien menace are a formidable and constant threat. Lee has determined that there are three of the creatures roaming in their immediate vicinity, and in order for the family to stay alive, they must follow strict rules, and adhere to the survival tactic of making no noise louder than that which nature makes.
But there’s always room for human error.
The rather gimmicky premise is by screenwriters Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, with additional scripting by Krasinski, directing his third feature, with his wife of eight years, Blunt, playing opposite him for the first time. The screenplay is taut, with almost no spoken dialogue - the narrative is facilitated by the use of American Sign Language, but there are a few glaring inconsistencies that threatened to derail the movie; such as the alien beasts’ ability to move at lightning speed out of seemingly nowhere following a loud sound, yet with their highly developed ears, they can’t detect smaller, quieter sounds? I didn’t buy into that.
There is a crucial scene, and arguably the movie’s most tense and frightening sequence, when Evelyn, about to give birth, and with a badly injured foot, is desperately trying to hide from one of the creatures, which is steadily closing in. The outcome of this scene illicited a few unintentional guffaws in the audience I was in - including me - as it was fairly absurd. What aggravated it was that Krasinski has directed a high-concept movie with as much plausibility as possible that it becomes gratingly earnest, and the ending of this scene almost scuttles the movie.
A Quiet Place is, essentially, a take on the plight of parenthood, the underlying intent to teach and protect, and the inherent dilemma of what would it take to ensure your children’s safety. The production values are very high, with excellent special effects, superb performances, especially Blunt and newcomer Simmonds (who is actually deaf). I’m not sure about the score, as good as it is in isolation, the use of it felt heavy-handed, especially in such a movie, where silence is imperative. The now de rigour use of deep, brooding drones has become part-and-parcel for eliciting dread. Yes, it sounds impressive on a sonic level, but its use as narrative ploy has become corny.
Quibbles aside A Quiet Place is a riveting science fiction horror-thriller with several excellent set-pieces, and a pretty cool - Get Out-style - ending. The movie will certainly appeal to audiences who normally wouldn’t watch science fiction horror. But I'm still aching for a new horror movie to really raise the bar.