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A Quiet Place

This will be one of those reviews I’m gonna hate writing. In part, that’s because this is a really good movie, and everyone knows by now that it’s a really good movie, so I have to try that much harder to bring something new to the conversation. Moreover, the premise is so simple that it doesn’t leave much to discuss without spoiling the scares and surprises that make the film so effective.

So if you want my review, here it is: Go see A Quiet Place IMMEDIATELY before anyone has the chance to spoil anything about it for you.

This is a post-apocalyptic movie set in the near future, after Earth has been invaded by… something. We never really learn much about what these things are, except that they’re blind, they’re impervious to modern weaponry, and they hunt by sound. Which means that if anyone or anything makes any noise louder than a whisper, death by claws and sharp teeth will swiftly follow.

Our main characters are the Abbott family, but names are never used at any point in the movie, so I won’t bother using them here. The father is an expert survivalist, played by director/co-writer/exec-producer John Krasinski. The mother is played by Emily Blunt — Krasinski’s actual wife — and she’s pregnant with the couple’s fourth child. How is she going to manage childbirth without making a sound? How can they keep a squalling newborn safe in these conditions? Great questions.

The older sister (Millicent Simmonds) is hard of hearing, and Father spends his spare time trying (and failing) to make a cochlear implant that will actually work. Additionally, Sister is… well, she’s a preteen. And she’s rapidly growing into a defiant and assertive adolescent. Likewise, the younger brother (Noah Jupe) has to come of age well before his time and learn how to fend for himself in this post-apocalyptic hellscape.

If you’ve been counting, you’ll be asking if there should be a third child in there somewhere. Well, there was a second younger brother (Cade Woodward) who gets killed off ten minutes in. It’s delivered in a way that makes for fantastic world-building and an early sign that this movie won’t pull any punches (They killed off a kid right in front of us ten minutes in, for fuck’s sake!), and the family’s grief over his death is a crucial point for all of our characters.

The movie’s use of emotions and trauma are a huge part of what makes it work so well. After all, post-apocalyptic fiction often involves characters in sadness, anger, grief, terror, trauma, and sometimes even euphoria at surviving a horrible situation or reuniting with loved ones. In all of these situations, we have the compulsive and involuntary need to cry out or break something. We have a deep-seated urge to express what we’re feeling or to blow off steam. Now imagine what it would be like to go through such a heightened situation without being able to scream or cry or express any kind of emotion in any tangible or audible way. Imagine having to keep all that emotion and pain bottled up forever, without so much as a single choking sob. Or as one or two scenes demonstrate, imagine going through something so extraordinary that death would be less painful than keeping it bottled up.

Of course, themes of family and parenting are also very prominent, and the talent of the cast is a huge part of why this aspect is so effective. Krasinski and Blunt prove once again why they don’t get nearly enough credit for their versatility as performers on their own individual merit, but their scenes together truly shine. Precisely because these actors really are married, they have an existing history and an effortless chemistry, such that they can speak volumes without a single word said.

Then we have the child actors. While Noah Jupe is certainly a capable performer, he doesn’t quite have the talent to hold the screen opposite actors of this caliber. Case in point: Millicent Simmonds. Between this and Wonderstruck, I was wondering if Simmonds was somehow getting typecast and we’d ever get to hear her speak. As it turns out… well, no, we probably won’t. Simmonds is legitimately deaf, and it’s astonishing how that doesn’t seem to slow her down. If anything, it only makes her a more compelling screen presence and a more powerful actor. In the absence of her voice, it’s astonishing how much Simmonds can express with her face and body language.

In point of fact, the whole movie is a master class in visual storytelling. The performances are certainly a part of that, right down to the nuances present in how the characters use their hands for ASL. But there are so many wonderful touches in world-building as well. A great example comes early on, when we see a grocery store that’s otherwise stripped bare, but the snack chip aisle is still fully stocked. And of course we have the board games played with soft knitted markers. There are so many wonderful little details about life in this weird and dangerous new world that who even cares what the monsters are or where they came from? The fine strokes are so compelling and well-crafted that the broader strokes are almost completely irrelevant, and the premise is so ingeniously realized that suspending disbelief to make it work is greatly rewarding.

But of course the movie’s real secret weapon is in the sound design. And I’m not just talking about Marco Beltrami’s atmospheric score or how certain sounds are played up more than others, though that’s absolutely crucial and beautifully crafted. No, I’m talking about the movie’s sound design within the context of being a horror film. Over so many decades of horror cinema, we’ve been conditioned to react in certain ways to certain audio/visual cues. But this movie is so radically different in terms of audio that the whole sensory playbook gets thrown right out the window, and the movie is more unpredictable (read: scary) for it.

To name an especially great example, you could watch ANY horror movie in the last two decades and hear how the audio cuts out in the scene before a scare. The lack of audio makes the audience hyperaware, listening for the slightest noise, knowing that a scare could come and go “Boo!” at any time. But when the whole movie is like that, we have no choice but to constantly be on our guard. Either that or we come to accept it as the status quo, dropping our guard until a noise breaks out and we’re scared back into constant alert.

So are there any nitpicks? Well, to repeat, it really bugs me how the opening death was so crucial, yet it turned out to be so totally fucking stupid. And it was sadly not the last time a character did something needlessly contrived and suicidally moronic, but I guess we couldn’t have a horror movie without that. Perhaps more importantly, the movie takes place primarily on a farm. It’s a sizable compound with many different buildings, and the film did a terrible job of keeping the geography straight.

Minor nitpicks aside, it would not be an exaggeration to say that A Quiet Place is a game-changer. With a simple premise and a metric ton of ingenuity, the filmmakers subverted and rewrote the established horror cinema rulebook to create something far more terrifying and memorable than a hundred Conjuring knockoffs. Purely on a technical level, the filmmakers did a phenomenal job of developing their world, plot, and characters with barely a word spoken. I seriously haven’t seen such an innovative, finely-crafted, heartfelt, intelligent, and unnerving directorial breakout curveball since… well, since Jordan Peele directed Get Out, come to think of it.

Believe the hype, folks. This one comes STRONGLY recommended. Go see it now.

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