Saturday, April 07, 2018

A Quiet Place / **** (PG-13)


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Paramount Pictures

Evelyn Abbott: Emily Blunt
Lee Abbott: John Krasinski
Regan Abbott: Millicent Simmonds
Marcus Abbott: Noah Jupe

Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by John Krasinski. Written by Bryan Woods & Scott Beck and John Krasinski. Running time: 90 min. Rated PG-13 (for terror and some bloody images).

Noise is something we take for granted. There’s always noise. Even in the darkest moments of night when the world at large is resting, our world is filled with noise. I can hear the hum of trucks from the interstate a quarter of a mile away at night when everything else is quiet in the house. However, nothing ever seems as quiet as it does when you are startled awake in the night by a nightmare. At that moment, silence can be stifling. And when all seems as still as it can be, with that nightmare lingering in your brain, the slightest little sound—a creak in the floor, a branch on a window, the fractional settlements of a house that occur throughout a structure’s lifespan—can bring an uncontrollable start. That moment when you suddenly think that the breaking of the silence will cost you your life, that is where the entirety of the new horror movie, A Quiet Place, exists.


The action opens on a ghost town after an ominous title card stating “Day 89.” The streets are abandoned; weeds grow up through the asphalt of this small town main street. We see a board of pictures of missing people. We see newspaper headlines that suggest a disaster of some kind. Inside a grocery store children walk around barefooted, but without making a sound beyond the pattering of their feet. A woman looks for medicine on the shelves of the drug store, being very careful not to knock any over as she looks for a specific prescription. You hear the tinkling of every pill as they shift inside the container. When they finally communicate with each other it’s through sign language.

Director John Krasinski and his co-screenwriters, Bryan Woods & Scott Beck, never explain why these people keep so quiet, but somehow they communicate that it is necessary for their survival. A man shows up and signs that it’s time to go. This is the Abbott family, we will eventually learn, but I don’t believe their name is ever brought up except maybe from a mailbox or an address in the background. I didn’t know any of the characters names until I looked them up to write this review. They are a family, however, consisting of the father and mother, played by Krasinski and his real life wife Emily Blunt, a daughter and two sons. The youngest boy, while adherent, doesn’t seem to understand the reason for the silence rules. On their way home the daughter, who appears to be deaf, does something that will change the family dynamic.

Krasinski and his sound design team understand how greatly we take noise for granted and present a world that is hardly silent at all. Everything makes sound of some sort. The wind is the biggest offender by blowing around paper and leaves. The family walks on a path of sand that runs their entire trek back from town through the woods. It seems to dampen the amount of sound their foot falls make on whatever surface they navigate. But there is never absolute silence, except when the movie focuses on the daughter’s point of view. Wonderfully portrayed by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds, her handicap in some ways gives her an advantage in this world of necessary silence. In other ways, without being able to truly differentiate the affects of different levels of sound, she is at a great disadvantage. The filmmakers make this very clear by removing all sound when showing us her point of view.

Eventually the filmmakers give us more clues as to just what is going on. After a nearly yearlong time jump, we discover there are creatures in the landscape that hunt by sound. Their presence has been devastating to the entire world. The father searches the world for survivors by tapping Morse code into low volume level static on a ham radio. He also works on building a hearing aid for his daughter. The mother is revealed to be pregnant after the time jump. They are working on soundproofing a cellar in preparation for the birth. There also appear to be other survivors in the area that signal to each other via bon fires at dusk. And a white board reveals the father has determined that at least three of the creatures hunt in the area of their home.

The filmmakers don’t bother to try to explain where the creatures came from or how the family survived the initial days of their existence. There is very little outside influence shown at all. Only one other survivor is ever seen during the course of the film. None of these details matter in respect to the film’s metaphor, which is simply an extreme examination of the stresses that parents must endure in bringing children into the world. We do everything we can to protect our children. We’re willing to die for them, but ultimately it would be impossible for any parent in any world to protect their children from every danger. In this world there just happens to be a particularly nasty one the makes living life as humans do very complicated. All children go through an age where they are totally dependent on the parent to protect them and parents are particularly harsh critics of themselves during this period of time. Some of our children with always be blind—or deaf—to the world’s dangers, but they will usually be stronger than we’re willing to believe due to the guidance we give them, although they might also resent much of that guidance. Worst of all, it is those influences outside our bubble of protection that present the greatest danger to the family.

Even though the thematic elements of A Quiet Place are pretty obvious, it doesn’t take away from the horror in the slightest. This is by far the most terrified I have been watching a movie since Neil Marshall’s 2005 film The Descent. At times, A Quiet Place surpasses that film. There is a sequence when the mother is trying to avoid detection from one of the creatures where I was so distraught I suddenly became aware that I was literally holding my head in place with my hands, as if holding my cranium was the only thing keeping my skull from exploding. But to even think of the scares in this film being broken down to individual sequences is erroneous. There is rarely a moment during the running time of this film when the discomfort level doesn’t register on a physical intensity. I have a feeling many movie theaters are going to have to replace some seats after the run of this film is complete. They will be getting a workout. Armrests will need to be replaced in every theater across the country.

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