OnScreen Review: "A Quiet Place"

Ken Jones

  • Chief Film Critic

Films are mostly perceived as a visual medium; most people when asked to explain the difference between a book and a film adaptation of the same book will talk about how books are conveyed through words whereas movies are depicted through images.

Lost in this discussion is the fact that film is more often than not also an audio medium. In some films the audio can be just as important and the visuals. Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation is riveting because of the audio recording that Gene Hackman’s Harry Caul obsesses over. The Blair Witch Project relies almost entirely on the unnerving sounds heard in the woods to be terrifying as anything actually shown on screen. Soundtracks and scores and instrumental (pun intended) in cluing the audience into how the director wants them to be feeling about what is happening on screen. A Quiet Place is a horror film that relies heavily on the aural aspect of experiencing a film and executes its mastery of sound to incredible effect.

John Krasinki of The Office fame steps into the director’s chair for the first time for this film about family and survival. Set in the near future, a meteor crash has brought an alien species to the planet that is deadly and hunts based entirely on sound. The film picks up on “Day 89” where we witness a tragedy involving the Abbott family while in town scrounging for supplies and trying to make as little noise as possible. The film then jumps ahead nearly a full year with the family living on their isolated farm under constant threat of being heard if they make too much noise.

Krasinski pulls double duty here as the director and the father, Lee. He has a strained relationship with his daughter, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), but is trying his best to fix her cochlear implant with the limited resources he has at his disposal. His wife, Evelyn (Emily Blunt, Krasinki’s real-life wife), is weeks away from giving birth. Along with their son Marcus (Noah Jupe), the Abbotts spend most of their time trying to soundproof an underground baby room for the arriving child.

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The success of the film hinges on two things. The first is the audience being invested in the survival of this nuclear family living on a rural farm. Showing the family tragedy that opens the film and then adding a baby to the mix obviously helps, but the actors makes these four characters and their relationships matter. The strain between father and daughter is intense, the love between husband and wife as they slow dance while listening to a song with one earbud apiece, the father teaching his son to hunt and be brave; these bonds are elemental and effective because they’re universal to every human being on some level.

While I thought all four of the main cast here were very good, Millicent Simmonds and Emily Blunt really, truly shine. Blunt has already established herself as an impressive actress with range. Coupling this film with her performance in Edge of Tomorrow and Blunt is right up there with Charlize Theron and Scarlett Johansson as the most believable female badass in movies. She’s doing something completely different here and shows off the versatility of her badassery. As for Simmonds, what can I say except that I continue to be impressed with her work? She was a revelation in last year’s Wonderstruck and she just builds on that here. That she is actually deaf and not an actress playing someone who is deaf lends an extra layer of believability to the role, as Krasinski himself has said that she was able to lend her experience to the film. I can only hope that Hollywood finds ample roles for her as she is an undeniable talent.

The second important factor in the success of the film is the way sound is deployed. The entire opening is almost completely devoid of spoken words, with the family relying on sign language instead. They walk without shoes and do so on sand laid out on the ground to further muffle their footsteps. The lack of sound immediately ratchets up the tension for when sound is finally made.

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On the farm, the family marks out walking paths through their cornfields with more sand, the kids play Monopoly on the carpet with felt pieces instead of the cast metal and plastic houses and hotels. There are painted steps in the house showing where to walk in order to avoid creaking floorboards. Holding back on the sound of this film so much makes the outbreak of sound that much more effective and the creatures that much more threatening to the audience. Another small but notable aspect is when the film cuts to perspective of Simmonds’ Regan the film’s sound is completely cut out, no ambient noise or anything. So many important scenes involve sound, from a diversion when the creatures attack to an important father-son moment by a river.

The expression “actions speak louder than words” is popular, but a message of this film is that words are important too. Sometimes we need to hear words of comfort from a parent or sway to Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” while holding our spouse. A father may love his daughter and try to demonstrate that in everything he does for her and in trying to protect her, but sometimes those words actually have to be shared. I was surprised how simple and strong a family message was to be found in A Quiet Place. Often, horror is about survival or the thrills or the monsters lurking out there. A Quiet Place has plenty of thrills and the monsters out there are frightening, but at the heart of this film is a surprising story about love and family ties that works and helps to elevate the film.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars