Horror films are not my cup of blood. None have the depth of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – The Modern Prometheus. Then again, most are not based on pioneering novels. Those from Hollywood are fixated on screaming teenagers, either stalking, chasing, torturing or cutting women into pieces. They are a serial killer’s text book. Bored late night, unable to concentrate on a good book, I’ll watch a late night horror film.
The problem lies with the monster. The genre has a fixed plot: show very little of the monster for most of the picture, release glimpses, but keep the full reveal until the last minute. That’s the moment our worst suspicions are confirmed, it’s a skinny guy in a lizard suit. Del Toro’s The Shape of Water barely avoided this pitfall. A Quiet Place doesn’t quite follow that formula, but it doesn’t veer too far off.
This horror show has a novel plot twist – the monsters are activated by sound. They can’t see or smell, but they have hearing more acute than a Jodrell Bank astronomical telescope. Sneeze and you’re good as dead. The creatures move at the speed of light. They kill anything that squeaks, coughs or farts, a rough time for humans with stomach ulcers.
I’d love to see the script. I hazard an educated guess fewer than six pages are devoted to the spoken word, dialogue is almost non-existent, all the other pages is silence in this nicely edited, exactly 90 minute, hare-em scare-em, the few characters communicating in sign language. Therein lies the films clever tension, for twenty minutes or so, after that it gets tedious.
The need for absolute silence in every domestic task carries through to a riveting bathtub scene. Evelyn Abbott, played by ski-nose Emily Blunt, is pregnant about to pop. She lies in the bath stifling her birth pains and primal fear as a creature climbs the stairs to the bathroom. Though they move faster than a bullet when chasing prey, they sound like an elephant moving slowly over your ceiling when in your house. Watching the action wide-eyed I tried not to breathe myself. According to her real life husband, co-star and film’s director, John Krasinski, as soon as he said “Cut!”, Blunt snapped out of character and asked the crew, “What’s everyone having for lunch?” Let’s hope the chuck wagon didn’t under-cook the New York steak and beetroot.
I’m never sure married couples should act in the same play or film. So often it can be destroy the illusion, or plain embarrassing to watch unless Burton and Taylor in Edward Albee’s wonderful study of warring couples caught in a loveless marriage, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf. In that case you’re watching the real thing and squirming just the same. In A Quiet Place the duo work well together, conveying a genuine affection that crosses the screen and helps give us an impression of a strong family bond.
In an interview with E! Magazine, Krasinski said, “I would love to direct Emily Blunt [But] I’d rather act with Emily than direct. I don’t know if I need that responsibility. She’s so good and I’d be so scared to screw it up, but [I’d be] happy to be in scenes with her. That would be really fun. We’re always up for doing something.” Well, he didn’t let her down. He’s done a fine job of directing, and not tried to hog the limelight as co-star.
The film is a mixture of pure terror and ludicrous logic. A race of lethally fast and carnivorous creatures, resembling scaly men on stilts, have swarmed Earth wiping out much of the human population. We never learn where they came from, how they arrived or why they are what they are. No spaceship falls from the heavens.
That’s half the fun in watching a film like this. There’s plot flaws aplenty. Out in the woods and corn plantation where the story is set, no birds sing. The creatures cannot climb trees or fly. How did they manage to kill or scare away all the birds? You pick at the loose logic and then will yourself to believe what you see.
What backstory we are given tells us Lee and Evelyn Abbott (played by spouses Krasinski and Blunt) and their three young children understand the creatures are blind, but possess extraordinary powers of hearing. My mother was like them. She knew where I was in the house even if I hid in a cupboard, a coat over my head. I digress.
We do get a few snippets of back story in the newspaper clippings lining the walls of the basement in the Abbotts’ rural farmhouse: worldwide destruction, mass fatalities, people losing hope. (Sounds like some Scottish nationalists.)
- Cast: Emily Blunt, John, Krasinski, Noah Dupe, Millicent Simmonds
- Rating: PG – 13
- 5 plus: potential classic, innovative. 5: outstanding. 4: Excellent. 3.5: excellent but flawed. 3: very good if formulaic. 2: straight to DVD. 1: Crap; why did they bother?
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