After all the buzz surrounding it and a few recommendations from friends, I decided to see A Quiet Place in theaters. Being a horror fan, how could I not?
What A Quiet Place does well, it does very well. Tension draws out and there are genuine emotional scenes with real payoff, such as those moments when a character is finally, finally able to scream or even speak. However, I admit to being underwhelmed.
I am not saying this film was bad; far from it. I would rank it as above average for a mainstream Hollywood horror movie, which any horror fan will recognize as damning praise. From a technical filmmaking perspective, it was beautiful: John Krasinski, who stars and also directs, knows how to frame beautiful compositions, how to work with ambient lighting, how to film action so it’s exciting and tension so it’s heart-pumping, and how to draw evocative performances from his actors. The creatures look cool and their CGI is great.
As mentioned, the actors’ performances are strong, and there are several character moments that really resonate. Krasinski is great as a patient paternal figure, Emily Blunt is his tired, blonde, and eventually pregnant wife, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe as the children work well together and the whole ensemble effectively portrays a nuclear family.
Most filmgoers and horror fans will enjoy the jump scares and leave the movie rattled, but I found myself frustrated by the end. There were a number of weaknesses that leapt out and jarred me right out of the narrative, and created what ultimately felt like a missed opportunity.
A more detailed unpacking appears below the cut. As always, there will be spoilers.
I will give the writers their due, there were some really inspired choices in the world-building.
The premise of the film is that humanity has been reduced to hiding in silence from anthropophagic monsters who hunt by sound. The characters go barefoot everywhere, a tactile advantage when you need to test the ground for any potentially noisy detritus, like small stones, branches, or leaves. In the opening scene in a store, the shelves are completely bare except for bags of chips — for the simple reason they are too loud to open or consume. Lee Abbot, played by Krasinski, has created and meticulously maintains paths of silent, noise-muting sand everywhere for the family to walk on. Board games are played with felt pieces to muffle them. The family eats only vegetables and fish; animals would be too loud to keep or slaughter. All communication is nonverbal or uses American Sign Language, and accidental sounds are met with horrified freezes as everyone waits for signs of danger.
But the execution doesn’t quite live up to the premise; for example, it was unclear to me how a creature over one hundred yards away could hear something like a picture frame fall in a basement, but not hear the breathing of someone who is in the same room. Or even, being blind, how the creatures move. If they are blind, they must be using some kind of radar to navigate the world that would show them where their potential targets are or obstacles to avoid. The creatures are unable to hear small sounds, such as voices or footsteps, in the presence of loud sounds, such as a roaring waterfall.
What frustrated me about this set up was the characters’ reaction to it: they are determined, despite their abnormal situation, to retain normal habits. For example, if the creatures can’t hear small sounds in the presence of loud ones, why not use something like white noise as a shield? For example, rig up one of the many vehicles scattered around the family farm to idle continually, creating a blanket of noise. Imagine the tension that would have arisen from the sudden silence if the engine stopped. Other critics have already pointed out the possibility of relocating next to the waterfall, which is valid, but as the events are taking place only a year after society’s fall it’s possible the Abbotts are still in damage-control mode and might have thought of that later.
Another nit I must pick was the amount of junk in the characters’ picturesque farmhouse. If you are terrified of making noise, you might take down photographs from the wall for fear of bumping into them and knocking them down, or clear tables of knickknacks and such. Maybe all the stuff on the tables and shelves was soft and I missed it.
Father Knows Best
Lee’s central role as protector and provider was a page right out of the Survivalist Male Fantasy Playbook and it pushed me right out of the film. It is made clear by Evelyn that Marcus, their young son, is expected to step into the Protector Role if something happens to Lee. This implication utterly ignores deaf eldest daughter Regan, for whom Lee has been patiently and thanklessly working on a cochlear implant. Yet somehow a deaf girl who has managed to survive in this deadly silent world is passed over in favor of a frightened, twitchy boy.
Strange too was the family’s utter isolation, when it’s clear from an early scene there are other survivors present. At night Lee sits on top of the corn silo and lights a fire; spread out around the horizon are other points of light, indicating other survivors of this muted apocalypse. Some viewers might argue that the presence of other people raises the possibility of more noise, and that you are therefore safer alone or with only your family – this is a troubling argument as it basically goes against the central tenet of evolution, which is strength in numbers. Humanity has been reduced to prey – and although it’s a difficult thing to countenance, prey survives best in herds, not isolated groups.
Blunt is fine as Evelyn, who is playing a traditional Mom. While Lee goes out to check the fish traps, maintain the sand tracks, and do other outdoor things, Evelyn does laundry and apparently pickles vegetables. And, despite the inherent danger, gets pregnant. This plot device is set up in the beginning by the death of four-year-old Beau, who is given a noise-making toy by Regan and immediately picked off by the creatures when he activates it. Naturally this sets up tension between Regan and Lee, but it also establishes Regan as a standard Problem Child, rather than having any character development. This is another problem I noticed – the only female character with any agency of her own is willful without purpose, existing only to complicate the plot and endanger other characters. Naturally, all her decisions are bad.
A Quiet Place has a brilliant horror premise ripe for dramatic tension. It’s certainly lush to look on, and when Lee releases his scream at the end to distract the creatures from his children, the moment is earned and gave me goosebumps. Ultimately it just didn’t succeed at delivering on its promise. I’d like to see any special features that explore or expand upon the creative decisions made, as I’m curious if there are some points I simply missed. On a separate note, this setting would make a great TV series, provided there are enough writers in the room to catch and fill all the holes.