A Quiet Place is a horror/thriller about a family’s survival against the threat of creatures which hunt by sound. It was directed by John Krasinski, who also wrote the screenplay based on a story by Bryan Wood and Scott beck. The film stars Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe, Millicent Simmonds and Cade Woodward, and is released in cinemas on April 6, 2018.
Right. I’m going to have to stop putting it off and just say it: A Quiet Place is simply wonderful. I left the cinema thinking I really should wait until my buzz goes down, and maybe I’ll see it with a better perspective. But twenty-four hours later, and I still can’t find any real flaws. Okay, some tiny ones. But nothing that will stop it from competing with Annihilation for the best film of 2018 (so far).
A Quiet Place opens on “Day 89”. Of what is not stated, and that’s great: no messing about with backstory or explanation of the world we’re in via some artistic prologue. We just meet a family dealing with an apparent crisis and silently looking after each other in the process. But it turns out this is the prologue: these opening ten minutes or so give us everything we need to know about the family and how they live, as well as encapsulating the threat they face, how they handle it, and a shocking catastrophe that happens when they miss something, as humans do. And next, over a year has gone by, and the mother is heavily pregnant.
The family is made up of parents Emily Blunt and John Krasinski (married in real life), and three kids played by – oldest first – Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe and Cade Woodward. They are all impressive, start to finish. I’ve seen Emily Blunt in several films – good (The Edge of Tomorrow) and bad (The Girl on the Train) – and knew her to be very reliable as an actor, regardless of the script. I wasn’t familiar with John Krasinski (I really must try The Office USA sometime, for his most famous role), though apparently most of his acting work has been comedy or cartoon voice work. Remarkably, this was only Millicent Simmonds’ second acting role; the first – Wonderstruck – has not yet arrived in UK cinemas. Noah Jupe, despite his youth, has wide experience, and I had already seen how expressive and engaging he can be in Suburbicon. And as for Cade Woodward, this is his first role. The five actors gelled perfectly as a family unit, believable in both commitment and conflict; and the stand-out was Millicent Simmonds. Yes, sometimes the kids were annoying. But this doesn’t make them poorly written characters, but realistic ones.
The crisis in A Quiet Place takes the form of – guess what – bloodthirsty creatures. Like Aliens, we (and the people in the story) hardly see them until they attack. And then it’s too late. These creatures aren’t given a name in the film, we don’t know where they came from or how widespread they are beyond the small setting of the story. But what we do know is that they hunt using sound, and we are given the impression right at the start that only people who are able to live and communicate quietly are still around. And as it happens, Simmonds’ character in the film (and indeed Simmonds herself) is deaf, and so the family already knows how to communicate with sign language. They have developed other techniques to minimize the use of sound too; such as sand on the ground to dampen footsteps, and warnings with colored lights instead of shouts.
Consequent to all this, sound is applied very carefully in A Quiet Place. The opening scene is virtually silent, with the subtle noises the characters would hear (leaves, footsteps) amplified. We can imagine being with them, and we can feel their tension. The audience I was with tried very hard to eat their popcorn as quietly as possible. Yes, there is a traditional music score too, and yes, it’s exaggerated now and then like in any good thriller (even Silence of the Lambs didn’t escape that); but only now and then. The silence might have grated somewhat if we had endured it for the full ninety minutes; the score is used for atmosphere and variation, as well it should be.
You might gather from the title A Quiet Place that sound is going to be an important feature, as it was in Don’t Breathe. But sound features in so much of what we do that it doesn’t once get tiresome or samey. There are even some nice scenes of shared enjoyment of sound, which create both respite and contrast from the tension.
There’s more to A Quiet Place – fortunately – than just the skilled use of sound. The cinematography and set production are certainly worthy of note too. Forest, cornfield, waterfall, and sky provide large backdrops for breathing out; and close-ups to faces, candles, and other details bring our focus back. It must be claustrophobic to always stay within such easy contact of family members – not least for the teenager – and the home they have made for themselves (a large, crumbling farmhouse) gets shut down and soundproofed at a moment’s notice.
I haven’t mentioned yet the main theme of this film, and – believe it or not – it’s not silence. Parenthood is painful, constantly presents new challenges, and provides motivation to keep going, no matter what. A Quiet Place sums up the commitment, sacrifice, and reward of parenthood. A story is rarely just a story, after all.
But the creatures! I am not going to describe them here, but suffice it to say they are big scary bloody monsters. Labels don’t always sit neatly, but this is a monster movie and it is a horror film. There are nods to other monster films, of course; but the film as a whole is so well done that none of it feels unoriginal. In fact, A Quiet Place may now be my favorite monster movie, overthrowing Alien at long last.