"A Quiet Place" (2018) - The Modern Silent Film
The lasting image of John Krasinski that lingers in the minds of the majority of people, I would venture to say, is as the charming, clean-shaven goofball Jim Halpert, the beloved character he portrayed on the small screen for the better part of a decade as part of the ensemble cast of the American version of The Office. Episode after episode, Krasinski provided viewers the necessary normalcy to counteract the deranged antics of his more nutty co-stars. He was, undoubtedly, a symbol of sanity.
That was all thrown out the window once Krasinski zeroed in on the concept that would ultimately evolve into his directorial debut, A Quiet Place, one of the most effective mainstream horror flicks of recent years. And it is about as unnerving a thriller as they come. The late Roger Ebert used to talk about "Bruised Forearm Movies", which he so labeled because if you watched one with a date, you would cling to each other so tightly that, by the end, you'd both be black and blue.
A Quiet Place is a proper Bruised Forearm Movie. The tension is palpable from the opening scene, and truly does not let up until the credits roll roughly 90 minutes later.
The film is as suspenseful as it is in large part due to really excellent work by the production's brilliant sound designers. As the title of the movie implies, Krasinski and company utilize silence as much as anything in order to establish the unsettling timbre of the film. There are long stretches of time that feature little or no sound at all, and dialogue is extraordinarily sparse.
In fact, the first word is not heard until about 24 minutes in, and it's not even a character who talks, but rather a song that plays. The characters do not audibly speak until the 38-minute mark...of a 90 minute movie. How is this possible?
Again, the sound design of A Quiet Place is masterful, and ensures that the film remains engaging even when nothing is being said and little is being heard. It was nominated for Best Sound Editing at the Academy Awards, and for very good reason.
Even beyond the dazzling audio work, the film works so well because of very smart direction from the rookie Krasinski. He showcases his talents as a visual storyteller throughout A Quiet Place, using tenets of the Silent Film Era to clue the audience in as to what exactly is happening at all times without heaps of verbal exposition, an aspect of far too many movies nowadays and one that I find particularly off-putting.
The screenplay never stops the momentum of the story to explain what's going on or how the characters are feeling. We understand intuitively the dangers that exist in this world because they are clearly established. And we grasp the emotional state of these people due to that aforementioned visual storytelling and some really fine work from the cast, which includes Krasinski, his talented wife Emily Blunt, and two capable child performers.
It is signaled to the viewer very early on in the proceedings that sounds of any and all kinds pose a serious threat to the characters. A lethal threat. As such, the audience is suspended in a constant state of unease. As movie watchers, we are conditioned to use two senses: sight and hearing. The filmmakers take advantage of this by thoroughly subverting our expectations and delivering something that is wholly different than what we are used to, and therefore not at all what we are anticipating. Each agonizing second of silence has earned that tension we feel in our gut.
A Quiet Place has more on its mind than just white knuckle thrills, though. There's a beating heart at its core that stems from the dynamics of the characters, particularly between Krasinski's paternal figure and his daughter, and the poignant story arc that very subtly progresses throughout the movie, culminating in an emotionally effective finale that is fully earned, even if you were too busy clutching your date to notice.
In the realm of modern Hollywood blockbusters, A Quiet Place is certainly one of the good ones. It's a thrilling piece of mainstream horror filmmaking that is definitely quite scary, but also very touching. Not without its minor flaws and peripheral blemishes, but all around a very solid movie and a wildly successful debut for the multi-talented man at the helm.