Movie Review: A Quiet Place
By Matthew Huntley
April 16, 2018
As a horror thriller, “A Quiet Place” is short, lean and to the point, yet it's careful not to cut corners on credibility, intelligence or emotion. Director John Krasinski, working from a screenplay he co-wrote with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, has trimmed this eerie little tale down to the bare essentials, infusing it with the tone and urgency of a gripping short story or any number of episodes of the “The Twilight Zone,” and even though the plot isn't exactly inspired, this is a solid genre picture with more than its fair share of scares and surprises.
One of the things I admired most about the film was its ability to move quickly without necessarily feeling rushed. Krasinski, who's relatively new to directing (he has just one other feature under his belt along with a few episodes of “The Office”), proves he's not only a sound storyteller but also a natural filmmaker. He tells and shows us only what we need to know, utilizing the power of suggestion rather than overt sensationalism to trigger shocks and unease, which is probably why “A Quiet Place” was able to garner a PG-13 rating. When it comes to horror and suspense, I'm always wary of any movie with less than an R-rating because I automatically assume that if the violence and terror were tame enough for the conservative MPAA to render it PG-13, it must not be all that effective.
But that's not the case here. Krasinski and his team, particularly film editor Christopher Tellefsen and sound editors Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn, leverage their resources economically and to great effect in order to build and release tension in terse, unexpected punches, which are spaced evenly throughout the film's brisk 90-minute runtime. They wisely bank on the audience's instincts to imagine the more explicit violence and gore without plainly showing them. And in a film with intentionally limited dialogue, it's put upon the actors to convey the characters' thoughts and emotions through body language, facial expressions and gestures, and they live up to the challenge. For all these reasons, the film feels uncommonly raw, human and organic.
Everything about the plot you probably know from the trailers, although the stirring opening sequence is enough to bring you up to speed. We meet the close-knit Abbott family—dad Lee (Krasinski); mom Evelyn (Emily Blunt); oldest daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), who's deaf; middle son Marcus (Noah Jupe); and youngest son Beau (Cade Woodward). They walk barefoot in an abandoned drug store, ransacking the shelves and salvaging any remaining medicine and other supplies. It's just one of many abandoned buildings in this essentially dystopian world that takes place in the not-too-distant future, where the people are scarce, the streets are empty, and the only sounds come from nature.
There's a reason for the limited sounds. An alien race of hostile, bug-like creatures have invaded Earth (how or from where we don't exactly know) and they possess a superior sense of hearing. What they lose from due to a lack of eyes they make up for with their ears. They're able to detect the most intimate, soft spoken human conversations, hence why the Abbotts mostly use sign language to communicate and are very careful to only walk on a soft, dirt path instead of gravel. The creatures' ears are so sensitive and their predatory nature so intense that no remaining human is willing to take any chance of being heard, lest they be hunted and killed.
A year after a tragic event has taken place, the Abbotts have set up a bastion at a remote farmhouse, where Lee has a rigged the property with an impressive network of cameras and lights to detect any potential invaders. He spends his days engineering and testing various hearing aids for Regan and occasionally scours the nearby woods and rivers for food. Evelyn, now pregnant, home schools the kids and, like the rest of the family, lives day to day on constant alert and partially in mourning. The story centers on how long the family can keep this lifestyle going without being detected by the creatures, especially amidst Evelyn's upcoming delivery.
But the movie doesn't settle on simply showcasing conventional monster movie scenes (creatures attack, characters run, creatures attack, characters die, repeat) and call it a day. Underneath its horror concept is a touching human drama about a family trying to heal old wounds and rediscover ways to express love for one another. How these wounds came about, I'll not reveal, but it's these moments and the variety of survival hoops the characters must jump through that give the movie its heart and energy.
And the movie just keeps the exciting scenes coming, whether it's a character trying to stay quiet during an ordeal that's known to be physically painful; or another trying not to sink and suffocate; or another trying to prevent a newborn baby from crying. If anything, the movie iterates just how much we take the luxury of being able to make noise and stay safe for granted.
If the movie is disappointing in any way, it's in the design of the creatures, which are too derivative of those we've already seen other movies like “Alien,” “Predator,” “Mimic” and “Starship Troopers” (just to name a few). Their construction is more an amalgamation of all these instead of an original creation, and so when they're actually on-screen, they're not all that interesting or scary. Still, the role the protective shell around the creatures' head plays during the climax is quite clever, while the ending in general is thoroughly satisfying and surprisingly heartrending.
Ultimately, “A Quiet Place” is a film that never puts on the brakes and is almost always exciting to watch. Krasinski is keenly aware that one of the keys to an effective thriller (or any movie, really) is to just keep things moving, whether it's through action, by building suspense and atmosphere, or by conveying emotion. Yet, at the same time, it doesn't try to cram into too much or descend into implausibility. What the characters endure, particularly the kids, is credible and we believe each of them would behave the way they do in their given situations. The film is riveting and entertaining and even though it may not push the envelope or break new ground, what it does, it does well, and it reminds us that horror movies need not be overly graphic or violent to be effective.