Movies by the Minute: A Quiet Place

An ongoing series with rapid reviews about great movies

 See end of review for assessment:

A must see on the big screen,
Good show, but matinee would suffice OR
Watch movie, but wait for DVD

Get ready not for just another movie—A Quiet Place is an experience, and one you won’t soon forget. This has to do with the fright factor, of course: a family’s survival is threatened by alien invaders who hunt by tracking sound, requiring everyone to stay absolutely silent in everything they do. The film also underscores the consequences of removing important elements of communication from the familial equation. In the world of A Quiet Place the alien monsters generate the conditions under which the family must live, but one of the film’s strengths is how it explores the themes of family and communication as they exist in our own societies with and without dangerous outside perils. Moreover, it renders the necessity of post-film retreat to discuss and decompress.

Director John Krasinski, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, opens the film as the family are 89 days into their new existence and many people worldwide are, we come to presume, dead. There were enough survivors, however, at least initially, to keep newspapers and other outlets running, and father Lee Abbott (played by Krasinski) has been doing research, evidenced to audiences by notes on his “war room” whiteboard, headlines and other informational tidbits. In this way Krasinski not only tells the audience some of what we need to know, but also sets the level of dramatic irony, increasing later as significant details emerge. By this time, audiences have bonded considerably with the family, and we root for them as they face their unique concerns and pain, together and alone.

The characters have some experience in how to survive this post-invasion era, and we learn by bits and pieces some of the techniques they have adapted, such as sand paths for quieter walking to town, or painted patches on non-squeaky floorboards. These are especially important to the Abbotts’ teenage daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), who happens to be deaf, an individual disadvantage, but one which also benefits the family as a whole because they can talk to each other more than most families, who lack knowledge of American Sign Language. Still, the Abbotts experience personality and perspective clashes like millions of others, and we witness them unable to reconcile their differences, one in particular that creates a terrible distance between two of the characters. The family’s stress and trauma are also compounded by the reality that the mother, Evelyn (Emily Blunt), is pregnant. Of everything babies do, of course, crying is most notable, and it will endanger all their lives.

Krasinski shows us how the Abbotts strategize and make their way through each day, revealing in the process each character’s nature, especially following a horrific experience at the movie’s opening. What also draws us to our bonding with film and family is how fluidly he does this, in the process tying elements together, simultaneously utilizing them to show us how situations function. There is a small amount of telling, though by necessity, and through dialogue, sparingly, when Lee explains to a frightened Marcus (Noah Jupe) that the river’s roar isn’t dangerous to them because it is a constant sort of sound, or at least something the aliens have grown used to. We, too, realize the sense in the understanding: there’d be ongoing mass, fruitless attacks on the river otherwise.

What is perhaps central to enjoyment of the film is, as mentioned, the sheer experience of it: the director brings audiences into it as we unconsciously quieten ourselves. Naturally the dark cinema brings us to a state of greater stillness, but A Quiet Place amplifies the silence, this itself a statement of the movie’s content, and we find ourselves devoted to how quiet we are, as if our candy packages rustling put us in peril, or popcorn chewing will draw danger. At one point someone in our cinema dropped a plastic cup in surprise, following an especially tense moment, and cried out at the sound of it hitting the floor. That was followed by a collective intake of breath and then nervous laughter at the audience’s self-awareness of its own investment into the story. This for a movie that has, actually, very little dialogue.

This brings us to a point in which Krasinski’s talent perhaps shines through the most. The story is very tightly written and there is only one tiny little detail we felt was extraneous (“due date” written on the calendar); apart from that nothing is wasted or without meaning. Everything reveals something about the family or aliens, or gives us insight into the story and how it is progressing, perhaps one of the finest examples of economy in film today. All these elements themselves are brought to bear on the idea of communication, the characters’ own investment in survival and hope, Evelyn’s loving nature, Lee’s methodical dedication to his family, and the children’s confusion and adaptability.

A Quiet Place may very well bring mise-en-scène out of its abode as a “grand, undefined term,” given its intensely, sensitively artful utilization throughout the film. Soft knit Monopoly game pieces and rolling of dice on a blanket instead of the board spread on it; the camera movement within a frame showing Marcus only from the eyes up (and how expressive those eyes are!); composition in the very next shot showing Regan rising up into the frame from a sitting position; the authentic expression of confusion, fear and curiosity on Regan’s face and the choreography of her head turning to see an alien right behind her—all of these and more are so beautifully achieved, and merged so masterfully with the technical perfection of the script, that it is difficult even for casual movie-goers to miss.

The visuals and non-dialogue sounds play into the storyteller role as well, which is true in most movies, though here Krasinski—as if the rest discussed above weren’t enough to prove his genius—takes it to another level. For example the director, also very aware of the value of “less is more,” crafts one scene portraying Lee standing at a higher point as he witnesses the alien run through the corn field. We see and hear only the rapid rustling of corn stalks creating a pathway through the area, but we know very well what it is. Another incredibly tense scene shows a human and monster within sight of one another, though neither realizes it, an especially well-constructed scene for its dramatic irony, prior setup, utilization of strength and weakness, and crucial angle that we are only learning about within that scene. There is another moment: simultaneously icky and terrible, we squirm in our seats, perhaps even draw our feet up off the ground as the scene progresses, both for the potential multiple disasters that could occur as well as the steps needed to prevent them. Krasinski channels Hitchcock, the master of suspense, when he puts into practice the legendary director’s principle that “there is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” Others have done anticipation; this up-and-coming director utilizes it better and more creatively than we have seen in years.

While Krasinski does utilize a jump scare here and there, it is refreshing to see he doesn’t rely on the technique, instead keeping suspense real and open ended, and the audience focused on larger matters, such as narrative continuity, individual relationships and how each one affects the others. He also completely bypasses need for any given character doing something stupid in order to keep the story going. It has to be said: this review makes no pretense at being an exhaustive one. There is simply way too much greatness within A Quiet Place, from the writing, directing, the extremely talented cast and all around execution, for it to be a typical creature feature. Krasinski shows his understanding of the fine line between horror and thriller, and presents us with a story he himself describes as “a love letter to my kids.” It is a tale worth telling, not merely for its entertainment value, although there is that. It prompts in us a desire to communicate the meaningful, a follow-up response to one of the themes of the movie itself, as its thought-provoking messages—and what those might be—continue the conversation for a long time to come.

We cannot recommend A Quiet Place highly enough. Watch it at the cinema if you can get there before it stops showing, as this movie is a major reason people say there’s nothing like the big screen. Once you have, don’t be shy about purchasing the Blu Ray, because this is a film that not only bears but also wants watching repeatedly. Simply said A Quiet Place is too well-crafted to watch only once.

Assessment: A must-see on the big screen

(Also a must-own Blu Ray)

Click the title to see our previous

“Movies by the Minute” review for Molly’s Game

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