Movie Review: A Quiet Place (2018)
Recently, a new topic about whether or not Netflix movies should be deemed eligible for awards and nominations traditionally designed for theatrical releases became the focus of debate, with the likes of Steven Spielberg advocating for the cinema experience being incomparable to watching movies at home. Whichever side you may be on, there's no debate that the fact is, some movies simply aren't the same in cinema or on TV. A Quiet Place is that kind of movie.
Taking place in one of those not-too-distant happy little futures where everyone is dead, A Quiet Place deals with one thing and one thing only: a family's struggle to survive. In order to do so, they have to go through their everyday lives producing as little noise as possible, because the tiniest audio dissonance will attract deadly monsters, which is why the movie often moves through long sequences of almost complete silence. Most dialogue are conducted in sign language with subtitles, what few real conversations that do exist are sparse and far between.
Please do not make the mistake of taking a "simple" plot as a "shallow" one, because movies able to grasp one small concept and execute it to the extremity can be most wonderful and special, as was the case with Gravity, Buried, 127 Hours... And now, A Quiet Place has joined their rank. It is very difficult to talk about this movie without going into spoilers, therefore for those that have not seen this movie, I'll leave you some general thoughts and advises before heading into the spoiler sections. Here goes:
A Quiet Place is a masterfully crafted piece of modern horror, although it leans further towards "thriller" than a traditional "horror film". It is not a monster movie per se, despite the monsters being a big part of the story. They are more "felt" than "seen" for the most part, so if you may be interested in seeing a monster devouring some poor human victims, this is not the movie you are looking for. Its throughout intensity and sense of dread demands to be experienced in a movie theatre, so I would 100% recommend going to see it.
However, because the majority of the movie is very quiet and dialogue-free, your cinema experience is also highly susceptible to the misbehaviors of your fellow moviegoers. Make no mistake, it is a movie where you can easily hear the sound of munching popcorns four rows away, therefore I do recommend you carefully select your time and location to hopefully avoid a crowd. After all it only takes one crying infant to ruin it.
So I guess the moral of the story is: go check it out, but be aware of cinema a-holes, and most definitely don't be one yourself. And now, SPOILER ALERT!
We never got to know how it came to this mess. The movie started at Day 79 of whatever that's happened, and then jumped forward for approximately a year, where the majority of the film took place in the span of one day. There is no backstory whatsoever given relating to the disastrous state of the world or any origin of the monsters, which is very unconventional for post-apocalyptic projects, as even Mad Max began with some news clip montage. These creatures may originate from outer space, underground, another dimension or hell itself, we don't know anything except they are attracted by sound and sound alone. That is utterly BRILLIANT!
A Quiet Place is not a monster movie, but a movie about survival of a family in a world with monsters, and this family is the focus, perspective and soul of the story. We don't know where the monsters come from because, quite frankly, neither should they. We see newspaper clippings collected by them spread on the wall, suggesting that they desperately searched for information about the current situation. But more importantly, it doesn't matter. The monsters are here, they are attracted by the tiniest of noises, knowing where they come from does not improve their chance of survival, and it allows the audience to truly appreciate the world from the only characters available on screen, creating a bond that normally wouldn't have existed so naturally. Clearly, it's a movie that knows what it wants to be.
Since the family (hereinafter referred to as the Father, the Mother, the Son and the Daughter") is the front and center of the story, it becomes essential that they are likable, relatable and memorable. The movie takes a Jaws-ish minimalist approach to the monsters, keeping them in the shadows for the majority of the runtime, therefore it fell to the few actors to carry the show. And what a magnificent show they gave us.
John Krasinski, being the lead and director, proved himself well beyond the confines of "Jim from The Office. Very soon after we are introduced to him, we understand that the Father is a vital reason this family has survived so long. He is the brave face beyond a terrified and tormented soul, a man whose need to protect and inspire his family outweighs his own fear.
On the other hand, we have Emily Blunt as the Mother, somehow being simultaneously the most badass and vulnerable character. It goes without saying that she gave a riveting performance, and her chemistry with Krasinski, being her real life husband, was every bit as genuine and heartfelt as you'd expect.
On the younger side, Millicent Simmonds, who is a deaf actress in real life, proved to be a highlight as the deaf Daughter. Having a deaf character in this movie is a legitimately ingenious move, as it accomplishes several things that are otherwise usually hard to come by. For starters, it provides a viable explanation for why this seemingly ordinary family has managed to stay alive and relatively functional, because they would have already been well versed in sign language and all sorts of expression without sound by the time this apocalyptic event transpired. It's also an effective plot device that adds tons of tension to the already intense situations, as a deaf person would naturally be even less capable of avoiding lethal situations, which works tremendously well when the movie occasionally shifts to her perspective and mutes all sounds. Well played, Krasinski.
The Son, played by Noah Jupe, has a relatively smaller presence than the rest of his family, but it was nevertheless fulfilled by some impressive acting. Whenever he needed to display a sense of dread, young Noah sold it convincingly. Indeed, I find the notion of "child acting" has become more irrelevant in the recent few years. Either Hollywood is vastly improved in child acting tutorship, or we are witnessing an incredibly talented generation.
Speaking of children of this family, there are two other members that are sure to become the focal point of discussion and debate. The first of which is Beau, who is only featured in the opening scene taking place a year before the main event. Apparently somewhere in the path of cinematic history, Hollywood went from "no kid will ever be visibly hurt onscreen" to "we must brutally murder a child at the beginning of every competent horror flick" (see It and Annabelle: Origins).
Arguments could be made that he died like a typical horror movie character, in other words, by being extremely dumb, which might be aggravating to watch to some degree. Ultimately, the opening sequence did benefit the movie by setting up the rules and upping the stakes. For myself, I was simply glad that the most dumbass character was out of the way. Ain't I a stone-hearted one?
On the other end of the spectrum, there was the new born baby that only existed for the latter half of the movie. Let's just say for an infant that's merely hours old, he performed admirably in the face of certain death. Yet his presence proved a constant source of agitation for both the characters and audiences alike. I think we all collectively shook our heads, rolled our eyes, covered our mouths or otherwise reacted negatively when we were made aware that the mother was pregnant. Because making babies is just about the inevitably noisiest thing out there. As it turns out, they were smarter and better prepared than I had imagined.
Which leads to one of the most fascinating elements of this movie, watching the family trying to assume a normal life without making a sound. They put sand on frequently-traveled paths and walk barefoot to moot their footsteps, kids use soft fabric as board game pieces instead of the usual metallic objects, and in the case of baby delivery, they prepared emergency lights, soundproof basement and an oxygen-enabled wooden box to place the infant. Then there's the firework to distract the monsters away from their house in cases of emergency, and I have a feeling that they were originally planning to set it off when the baby was to be born.
Now speaking of that moment...
There are many types of cinematic badassery, you can be "Gerald Butler kicking someone into a pit while yelling a meme" badass, you can be "Samuel L. Jackson barging into someone else's apartment and drinking up their soda in one gulp" badass, but you will never ever be "going into labor with your foot punctuated by a nail and a monster lurking inches away and still managing to keep silent" level of badass. That belongs from now on to Emily Blunt, patented and copyrighted.
There are quite a few intense and well-crafted set pieces in the movie, but by far, this is the one to take away.
One of the recurring plot devices is the many hearing aids that the Father persistently makes for his daughter to compensate for her disability, even though they have proved less than functional and the Daughter doesn't fully understand this gesture, which divides them in a frustrating manner. The payoff of this little subplot, however, cannot be overstated.
By a happy accident, the frequency emanating from the latest version of this device happens to bother the monsters, not unlike Mars Attacks! but less lethal, causing what appears to be excruciating pain, which saved the Daughter on several occasions without her even realizing it. The Father finally was able to mend their relationship by confessing his eternal love for the kids, before he sacrifices his life for their safety. To say it was an emotional moment is an understatement equivalent to "Hitler is a mean dude".
Eventually, after realizing the damage her device is causing to the monsters, the surviving family were able to blast one monster's head off by taking advantage of its disorientation. Although more monsters were attracted by the gunshot, in the Father's basement/workshop, they had everything they needed to mount a defense. The Daughter connects her booming hearing aid to the largest speaker, and the Mother cocks her shotgun, announcing a potential new era for humanity. Cut to black. How much more awesome can you get?
In the end, it is the Father's undying love for his little girl, embodied by the hearing aid and other devices in the final scene, that allowed them to survive. It is also this piece of love, as implied by the ending, that may herald in mankind's retaking its own fate. There goes a sense of poetry for you.
On another note, could the movie have lingered on a while longer? Was it really the right time to end? Opposing voices certainly have been heard since the movie came out, but I do believe it was the perfect endpoint. It would be fun to watch the rest of their fight, but narrative-wise, the story was complete, the story of a family, through loss and sacrifice, survived against hopeless odds and emerged stronger. Anything that might follow would merely be predictable extension, with the journey of the family growing, bonding and already having reached its peak.
A Quiet Place is an amalgamation of thriller, horror and monster movies, and for every single one of those genres, it was a breath of fresh air and a voice of unique quality. Its simple premise of living in complete silence is a genius plot device as well as in-theatre interactive gimmick, which in no small way helped propel its commercial performance to another level.
It has almost every quality expected in a great movie, effective story, memorable characters, amazing performance, elegant score... perhaps not witty dialogue, but hey, that's self-explanatory.