A Quiet Place – a review


Emily Blunt and Millicent Simmonds stay schtum to stay alive

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.


No good horror film is without a scene of a femme in a bath

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.


John Krasinski plays the beleaguered father, the director, and Emily Blunt’s husband

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.)

The creatures are H.R. Giger’s Alien meets your worst nightmare neighbour. They kill for the sake of killing, yet seem to eat nothing at all. Like all Hollywood monsters they never urinate or defecate. For the Abbott family, they walk everywhere barefoot – I’m sure rubber soled shoes would be fine – but anyhow, everybody is barefoot. You can’t use a car. The engine noise will have the things swarming all over it and they can slice metal like a tin opener on a can of rice pudding.

Krasinski directs the two youngsters in the story. Children dominate the plot

What makes A Quiet Place work for most of its length is the way the story immerses us in the minutiae of everyday survival. This is hold your breath cinema of a high order; survivors cling onto life as best they can until they cannot any longer, and their scream of agony draws the creatures to their throat. Life without sound, it turns out, requires an awful lot of pre-planning.

Lee and Evelyn also have two young children who are already much smarter and more resilient than they should have to be. Marcus (Noah Jupe) is easily scared, forever on his guard. Marcus’ older sister, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), is the big sister who is fearless to the point of recklessness. She’s at that awkward age – self-possessed. She is also deaf, which puts her at a singular disadvantage until you put two and two together and suss she might have the answer to the monster’s one weakness.

All monster have a weakness. In John Wyndam’s The Triffids it’s salt water, in Alien sagas its Sigourney Weaver, in Predator it’s Arnie’s street smarts, in other horror films it’s a delirious dumb blonde. The fact that Regan and her family are all adept at sign language partly accounts for the length they’ve managed to survive. The sections between doting father and hearing disabled daughter are the most poignant and truthful. There’s an attractive mixture of tenderness, guilt and misunderstanding, all based on miscommunication. In reality Simmonds is a deaf actress, is as impressive as she is in her breakthrough role in Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck.

Krasinski, whom I’ve not seen in his USA television version of The Office, is fine as the ever vigilant, ever courageous dad, but who ultimately makes one of those utterly senseless, futile sacrifices that only happen in goofy Hollywood movies. He is more than matched by Blunt. Her performance rings true from the moment she appears on screen, to hanging out the washing, to hiding from the creatures in her backyard. There are a few things as powerfully protective as a mother’s love.

Marco Beltrami’s music score is a homage to Hitchcock’s Psycho, and the excellent cinematography is handled by Charlotte Bruus Christensen. (Readers please note a woman is behind the camera.)

The rest is classic horror: cramped, dark quarters, lights that flicker, floorboards that creak, babies that cry, looks of fear and death stalking anything that beats a heart. For a lot of the time the film emotes intelligence, and that together with a good screenplay and acting is enough to secure it three stars, with a half for novelty.

  • Star rating: Three and a half
  • Cast: Emily Blunt, John, Krasinski, Noah Dupe, Millicent Simmonds
  • Director: John Krasinski
  • Writer: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, John Krasinski
  • Cinematographer: Charlotte Bruus Chrisensen
  • 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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