John Krasinski’s tightly-crafted horror film is a masterpiece in sound and substance that will leave viewers struggling to catch their breath even after the movie’s end.
Long before the modern evolution of the horror movie genre, Alfred Hitchcock tormented his audience with the agonizing feeling of uneasy tension. He masterfully wove sound and editing to confound viewers’ expectations. John Krasinski’s latest film, A Quiet Place, builds upon these Hitchcockian methods to scare the living shit out of its audience. And the best part of it all? With the notable exception of sudden and loud noises spliced in throughout, the movie’s practically a silent film. But man is the silence oh so deafening.
If you haven’t seen the trailer by now, the plot centers around a small family living amidst apocalyptic conditions. Society (and humanity for that matter) cease to exist after the arrival of an alien-like creature. This creature preys upon its victims not by sight but by sound. As the movie’s tagline deftly proclaims, “If they hear you, they hunt you.” Blind to its surroundings, isolated noise allows the creature to announce its arrival with altogether horrible and very bad, no good intentions. Rather than spoil its physical characteristics and appearance any more, trust me when I say the creature’s menacing appearance embodies a creepiness not seen since James Cameron’s title monster in Aliens.
Led by parents Lee (John Krasinski) and Evelyn (Emily Blunt) Abbott, the Abbott family fights for survival on an isolated, rural farm. Trying to raise children Regan, a deaf young girl played by the supremely talented and deaf in real life actress Millicent Simmonds, and Marcus under less than ideal conditions (like the inability to make ANY NOISE OF ANY KIND), the Abbott family faces the unenviable task of trying to both create and coexist inside a noiseless ecosystem. Good luck with that.
Not satisfied by just his appearance on screen, Krasinski takes a turn in both the director and screenwriting chairs. He deploys some incredibly creative techniques, none more so than the way in which he plays with sound. Because of an environment that mandates silence, the characters communicate through the use of sign language. In doing so, the viewer often faintly hears softly spoken words simultaneous to the deliverance of the signs themselves. Yet, this is not the case when the camera is trained upon deaf Regan. In a movie whose storytelling is largely predicated upon sound, Krasinski cleverly directs the viewer into Regan’s world only by what she sees rather than the sounds she naturally cannot hear. One particular scene at the beginning of the movie exemplifies this point of view. As the rest of the family reacts in horror to the sudden exhibit of a loud noise, Regan is unsuspecting of any impending harm until her eyes perceive the body language of those around her. Every time the story switches to Regan’s point of view, it does so by the sudden removal of any background noise and the insertion of complete and utter silence. The end effect is a Faulknerian stream-of-conscious without the use of any sounds or words.
Overall, the movie’s sounds, or the lack thereof, has a cataclysmic effect on the audience. Whether it’s a piercing scream interrupting what’s become accustomed silence or the absence of such a scream in the middle of a character’s bout of excruciating pain, the element of noise toys with your emotions. At different times, Krasinksi so successfully builds the suspense you find yourself curling your toes out of uneasy anticipation or watching the movie through splayed fingers. Multiple times throughout the movie, certain scenes elicited hushed expletives from those around me. None more so than a particular character’s jaunt down a flight of stairs — a scene so agonizing that the mere mention of this movie’s title will forever prompt my mind to immediately recall its every detail. Out of fear of spoiling all the fun, let’s just say this particular scene and the ensuing game of hide-and-seek shall stand alongside the pantheon of suspenseful and iconic moments befitting of a Hitchcock movie.
In all, the story builds all the way up until its chaotic conclusion. A conclusion, I may add, that will leave you begging for just a little bit more. Oftentimes, we ask why we would put ourselves through certain experiences. In the case of A Quiet Place, you won’t be sorry that you did. Well, maybe you will a little when the movie first ends and you can finally breath again.