Silence never sounded so terrifying
The world of A Quiet Place is not totally unlike our own. Lee and Evelyn Abbott (John Krasinski and Emily Blunt) live life in silence, but they encourage their children to be as fully-formed and brought-up as possible. They go about regular day-to-day routines, they cook meals and say grace as a family; they even play late-night games of monopoly on the living room floor using bits of cloth as counters to ensure the dead air. Silence never sounded so terrifying though, because beyond the safety of their barn the world has been overrun with sightless, predatory creatures with an aptitude for amplified hearing. And if they hear you, they hunt you.
True to its name, John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place teeters forward, camera locked in on the bare, padding feet of the Abbott family as they complete a routine scavenge of a long-deserted supermarket. A title card announces Day 89 – but of what, we are unsure of yet. The family communicate in sign language, whilst the four-year-old youngest promises his deaf sister (played magnificently by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds), the eldest of three, of their future escape – via rocket, drawn with childlike optimism in the dust on the ground. When he finds a battery-operated kids toy identical to the one of his fantasy, Lee warns in urgent sign language and carefully removes the batteries. Lee spends parts of his day laying saltgrain trails for the family to walk on, but they may as well be walking on egg-shells. Their fear is palpable, but what, exactly, are they afraid of?
Thanks to that darned toy, we’re about to find out, in a sequence so perfectly executed it risks toppling Inglorious Basterds’ ‘Jew Hunter’ scene from the tension-riddled top spot of creepy movie openings. The difference? A Quiet Place does it without ever making a sound – or so you’d hope.
In conversation, a friend brought up the very valid suggestion of terminating Evelyn’s pregnancy. After all, the first few moments of the film see Evelyn searching through a slew of unused pill bottles in the supermarket pharmacy for her flu-ridden son, and with the entire film showing the prevalence of electrical power even in a post-apocalyptic world it isn’t entirely outrageous to think there may be resources available to take care of the situation. The idea is somewhat sensible given the circumstances and AMC’s The Walking Dead covered a similar state of affairs, however grisly. But maybe it’s the way the family hold hands in silent grace before their meals, or perhaps it’s the constant reminder that the family has already been gravely affected, but the heart of the story stems from Lee and Evelyn’s grim determination to protect their children even as the world becomes intolerable.
A Quiet Place is less about the sounds that bring the monsters out and more about the shadows that coax parents into their worst nightmares. Krasinski and Blunt, real-life partners and parents to two, seem to connect with the material and deliver fascinating, astonishing performances that revel with the lack of dialogue. Krasinski (who also co-wrote the screenplay) directs with subtlety and skilful restraint. He, and Blunt, know that when the sound is notched to zero, we lean in, and they force us to pay attention to facial expressions in a way that hearing audiences rarely do. And so, warming to this scrutiny, they emote like champs.
There was never any doubt that A Quiet Place would be joining the legions of new smart horrors helmed by It Follows, The Babadook, and, most recently, Jordan Peele’s Get Out. The influence of Alien and No Country for Old Men is deliciously apparent, and the stakes are kept at a similarly sky-rocketing height. Even the aliens themselves are uncannily reminiscent of miniature Cloverfield monsters (the film was actually considered to act as a part of the Cloverfield franchise in its early stages). But don’t let the trailers fool you; the climax moves deeper into the film’s thematic veins and emblazons itself as one of the best horrors of the last decade, and Kransinski as one of the best newcomers to the genre, quicker than you can take the overtly obvious step of proclaiming “Fact: bears eat beets. Bears. Beets. Battestar Galactica.”
A Quiet Place (2018), directed by John Krasinski, is distributed in the UK via Paramount Pictures. Rated 15.