In “A Quiet Place,” a footstep sounds like a grenade, and a door squeak sounds like an earthquake. The film follows a family struggling to survive in a world overrun by ambiguously defined monsters who are hypersensitive to sound. This is a pure genre exercise first and foremost. John Krasinski, who previously has only directed mumblecore dramadies like The Hollars, seems to have taken on the project to show off just how good of a thriller director he can be. And as an opportunity for someone to flex their directorial muscles, “A Quiet Place” is a resounding success.
It’s impressive just how committed the film is to its central conceit, at least, in the beginning. There are probably no more than a couple dozen lines spoken per character. Much of their interactions are done either through either sign or body language. This places a pretty heavy burden on everyone, not least the child actors. Thankfully, everyone is more than capable of delivering.
Emily Blunt is a consistently good actress and this film is no exception. She’s able to ground much of the film, adding a layer of humanism under the genre machinations. Millicent Simmonds, who is actually deaf in real life, turns in another fantastic performance after her breakthrough in “Wonderstruck.” She is able to express so much with just her face and behavior that she almost doesn’t even need subtitles. John Krasinski, doesn’t fare quite as well as these two. His performance is solid, but I never really got a good sense of who this guy is, as opposed to the other characters who had such strong personalities.
Whatever Krasinski lacks as an actor he more than makes up for as a director. I think it’s a given that the sound design in this movie is incredible. The crew are able to use silence as a vacuum, creating a hypnotic stillness that can hold our attention far better than the overbearing jump scare fests that you usually see in horror movies. However, what is especially noticeable is not necessarily what sounds they take out, but what sounds they decide to include. Whether it’s the creaking of a door, the scraping of metal, or the echo of a footstep, we are constantly reminded that any act of carelessness can lead to certain death. Even in the slower scenes of the film, the sense of dread still lingers, following us just like it follows its characters.
However, part of me did wish that the film took some more risks. For every brilliantly executed moment of pin-drop tension, there was another scene of frantic running and blaring horror-movie stock music. These scenes always felt like a cop out to me, as if the filmmakers were afraid of losing the audience if they didn’t include at least a couple scenes where things go boom! Isn’t its purpose to present a radically different take on an established genre? What’s the point in watching a film with this premise if it’s afraid of embracing the possibilities of said premise throughout the runtime? I kept imagining how cool it would have been if the film had no soundtrack, forcing us to listen to literally every single sound, experiencing the world just like the characters did.
This suspension of belief is really tested in the film’s climax, which involves all sorts or running through dirt and leaves that most certainly would have captured the attention of these monsters. It’s moments like these that feel like they break the rules that were set in place when it would be convenient to do so. When the climax does embrace the rules, it comes away with some of the film’s best setpieces. The scene when Blunt’s character is in labor, which they’ve pretty much based most of the marketing on, is incredibly tense. It’s basically the perfect storm of a worst-case scenario. The overbearing score actually takes a backseat, focusing us to listen to every single sound the character makes. The setting is incredibly claustrophobic as well, constructing a decrepit interior filled with jagged edges and black shadows.
The fact that the main characters were set up so well and so effectively really carried my attention throughout the film, even if some scenes were more engaging than others. That’s why the ending felt like such a betrayal to me. Without spoiling too much, there isn’t really a conclusion. The movie just stops. It felt like such a cop out to me, especially because I really wanted to see where these characters ended up. I don’t have a problem with movies with ambiguous resolutions, but this ending didn’t feel unresolved on purpose, it just felt like it had to get out at that time because the filmmakers didn’t want the movie to be too long. It felt like such a slap in the face because I was so invested in who these characters are.
An ending like that is reserved for a dumb action movie that wants to end on an adrenaline surging fist pump, not a minimalist horror film about family dynamics. This final scene really is a perfect encapsulation of “A Quiet Place.” The things it does effectively it does so well that whenever it makes a misstep, it feels so much more obvious. Even the ending, which I had major problems with, I can see as being a brave choice, sidestepping the obvious happy ending in a way that tries to be thought provoking, forcing the audience to come to their own conclusion – –
…Sorry? They’re making a sequel? Already? Oh goddammit, Hollywood.