We are in a silver age of horror films. With recent releases such as “Get Out”, “The Witch”, “It Comes at Night” and “The Babadook”, horror films have found a new voice in Trump’s America, echoing our current paranoia and national consciousness. “A Quiet Place” does not necessarily speak to modern times, but it does tell a good story with an interesting concept, adding further to a recent spate of quality horror films (surrounded by oodles of studio crap of course).
In four years’ time, strange creatures have taken over the planet. Blind, they hunt by hiding in the ground and using their incredible hearing to find prey. With most mankind decimated by their ranks, the survivors, including the Abbot family, dad Lee (John Krasinki), mom Evelyn (Emily Blunt), daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and sons Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward), must live in total silence to survive.
The film is clever in how the characters find ways to keep quiet and builds up the anticipation towards the film’s conclusion. As we learn more and more about the characters and their situation, details about them become clearer, stakes are raised beyond simple survival and audience investment deepens.
The film is a strong example of high concept. Any genre film can be hooked by a concept, especially a horror film. “Speed”: What if a bus was rigged with a bomb that would go off if it went below 50 mph? “The Matrix”: What if we were living in a computer simulation? “Jurassic Park”: What if a theme park of dinosaurs went amuck? “A Quiet Place”: What if the monsters hunting you could only catch you if you make noise?
To make a film more than just the concept though, you need to elevate the story elements around it to create dimensional characters with an arc that makes you feel something over the course of the story. Luckily, “A Quiet Place” has a pretty good heart beating inside it.
It’s a story about family and how tragedy can sever the bonds between members. Regan questions whether her father loves her after she makes a mistake. The other family members sense the struggle and try to help. That question and the devotion between them as they seek to overcome their present circumstances drives the narrative. It’s not a wholly original concept, but it serves as an important undercurrent to keep the audience invested beyond simple survival/death. It could have even been pushed further to incorporate more internal strife and disharmony.
Krasinki’s directing and acting give the film a firm direction as the action ramps up, the suspense never feeling cheap or forced, naturally allowed to proceed to its logical end. It makes for an interesting film that goes beyond simple scares.
Inciting Incident: Beau is killed when Regan gives him a toy that makes noise.
Act One Climax: Lee shuns Regan as she tries to help the family.
Midpoint: Marcus tells his father about Regan’s guilt as she goes to Beau’s gravesite.
Act Two Climax: The Abbot family enacts their plan to get through Evelyn’s labor.
Act Three Climax: Regan discovers the creature’s weakness through her hearing aid.
The film does a fantastic job of setups and payoffs. Lee tries to create hearing aids for Regan pays off as a way to show his love to her after he’s gone. When Evelyn leaves a nail sticking up on the stairs after she does laundry, we know it will play an important part later on. When Beau draws a rocket and takes a spaceship as his toy, the fireworks pay off as a symbol to him. And having Evelyn pregnant leaves the audience wondering how the family will sort out the situation. Labor is noisy. Babies are loud. How is the family going to get through this? The little moments leading up to the climax don’t make sense when we watch them, but they do later on as we realize that they are making a soundproof basement fort, have an oxygen tank for when they need to hide the baby in a box and why lighters are so important (to light fireworks). It is a very well-written script that builds up piece by piece, every detail mattering in the end.
Some moments were a little predictable though. Evelyn telling Lee that he has to save his family, along with several other heavy hints, guarantees his demise. Regan’s hearing aid providing the clue to the monster’s weakness is hinted at so strongly for such a long time that the viewer is practically yelling at the screen for her to figure it out already. And the creature design is far too similar to the monsters from “Stranger Things”, which are in turn similar to monsters that came before them. A bit more originality into their look would have really helped differentiate them.
Overall, it is hard to find too much to complain about. The acting, writing, editing and directing are all good. The story is solid. It’s simply a well-made film and for new director John Krasinski, a promise of an interesting future yet to come. It’s too bad they’ve already announced a sequel. Some films lose their intrigue with a second edition. This seems like one of them.