There are some horror movies where I enjoy watching the audience reactions more than the movie itself. And then there are ones like John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place, where I turn into the reactive horror movie viewer I usually smirk at for being won over by jump-scares. I found myself doing things I don’t normally do while watching horror films; edging on my seat, my mouth agape, and my finger lodged between my teeth with intensity. It’s a rare exception of a film that manages to merge the artfulness of a slow-building dread with the rollercoaster effect of grinding anticipation.
From the very beginning, Krasinski avoids the expected apocalyptic story structure. Earth’s human population has been widdled down by creatures that react to sounds and swiftly savage their prey within seconds. A lesser film could have made this film take place on the first day of humanity’s fall, showing some science experiment that went wrong and hordes of crowds fleeing from the fast-footed predators. We instead begin roughly 80 days later, learning about what happened through the silent trek of the Abbott family. They’ve lived long enough to know all the rules: no shoes, no talking, and no loud noises. All of this is revealed through limited sign language and dialogue-free direction. Also revealed in this opening scene are the consequences of being heard. Let’s just say kids are not off the menu.
Skip ahead 400 days later and the Abbot family is living on a farm, adjacent to a handful of survivors in the distance. Lee (John Krasinski) plans the defenses for his family’s new stronghold. Cameras keep an eye on the grounds, nights are spent in a secret basement, and he devotes all his spare time to studying the creatures. His wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt) is remarkably brave for continuing on with a child on the way. How can they have a baby when the farm must remain silent at all times to avoid an attack? There’s a solution for that, but it still requires a lot of faith to go through with it. It should be worth noting that when things go from bad to worse at the farm, the film becomes particularly nerve-wracking for any parent or expectant parent. I’ve seen Blunt play an action star before, but there’s a whole new level of grit to her in a role of vulnerability and motherly fury.
The children are not so hopeful as the adults. Regan Abbott (Millicent Simmonds) is the deaf daughter and finds it particularly difficult to live in this world where she can’t hear a sound. Lee tries to develop a hearing aid for her, but without success, frustrating her further. She is so wrapped with guilt for the past and unable to move forward into the future, believing there is nothing her parents can do to protect her. Marcus Abbott (Noah Jupe) is the younger brother that must take the reigns from Lee but is too terrified to face the world that demands silence or death. He’s going to have to learn fast with another mouth to feed on the way and hungrier mouths that want to devour his family.
Implied by the title, there’s much quiet in the picture, as the first line of audibly spoken dialogue isn’t heard until a third of the way through the movie. It’s refreshing to watch a film that not only has faith in the storytelling of its cinematography but lets the tension brew with limited sound. The lack of sound adds to the fearful atmosphere, devoid of the expected anticipations of typical jump-scares that only go quiet for bite-sized frights. I always looked forward to Regan’s perspective as the sound drops completely to channel her deaf ears, as the unusual silence makes the cringing and gasping of the audience all the more audible. It’s even more surprising when you hear your own reaction slip out in the film’s invitations to react.
I usually find it harder to recommend horror films that dip into the darkest aspects that chill the soul, but A Quiet Place is such a rewarding experience in dealing with its creative premise and gruesome monsters that it’s easier to suggest. It’s even easier to recommend seeing it in the theater to get the full experience of everyone else gripping their seats about what will happen next. Although, I should preference this recommendation that it’s seriously going to creep out parents for its heavy psychological themes of protecting your children. It may also frustrate those who hate hearing the sounds of popcorn bags rustling and soda fizzing. That may sound like this is better suited for home viewing, but, trust me, you’ll want to be in the theater when hearing the wriggling and rustling stop as Emily Blunt tries to evade the monsters of many teeth.