A Quiet Place Film Review
A lovingly detailed, well-acted and tense ride.
You’ll spot this headline on a framed newspaper clipping in director John Krasinski’s new chamber piece thriller, A Quiet Place. The headline refers to the catalyst for cinema’s latest ruined earth: long-legged, sound-sensitive, insectile beasts who pounce on anything that speaks or claps. Earth, being the noisy place that it is, appears to have been all but wiped out.
There’s something 1950s about that headline. Splayed across the newspaper with the urgency of a traditional media in its golden era, you can imagine it spinning from afar to land on the screen with an orchestral flourish. A Quiet Place, while fitting into the recent resurgence of claustrophobic horror science fiction movies—the innovative and underrated Life (2017), the compelling enough 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)—has an air of pre-digital nostalgia about it. Our complex world is stripped away to focus on simple, familial activity.
The story even concerns a white, nuclear family on a farm-like property. Playing the lead in the movie he directed and scripted with Brian Woods and Scott Beck, Krasinski is the father, Lee. He’s married to Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and they have two kids: Regan (Millicent Simmonds), who’s deaf and inadvertently contributes to the death of her younger brother, and Marcus (Noah Jupe).
There’s not a lot to say about the characters. Firmly entrenched in talkies (sound films) as we are, it’s difficult to create fully fleshed out characters when they can hardly speak above a whisper. Still, via the screenplay, the Abbotts are more like archetypes of an American family unit than complex individuals. It’s one of the movie’s few shortcomings, mostly a non-issue when you see the performances Krasinski gets out of his cast: it’s some of the best acting in a horror movie since The Babadook (2014).
All the reviews rave about Simmonds as Regan, and with good reason. There’s a moment early on when, after a tense shopping trip in an abandoned supermarket, she goes behind her dad’s back to give a spaceship to her little brother (Cade Woodward). When he’s holding the spaceship and looking up at his sister, she turns back and winks—it’s such a natural wink, so cool and so authentically older-sisterly, a tiny example of her huge talent.
That gesture of sibling camaraderie leads to the boy’s death and the story jumps ahead a few hundred days. The Abbott family are playing monopoly with soft pieces, signing to each other over dinner and Evelyn’s doing her best to home school Marcus. Lee’s working on a mechanical ear for Regan, who begs him to take her hunting, only to be forced to stay at home and look after Evelyn, who’s unfortunately pregnant.
The house feels lived in. Heather Loeffler’s set decoration is a work of movie art, paying close attention to the details that make both a refuge against the outside world and a family home. Rows of bulbs stretch out into the yard, attempts are made to board up and soundproof the house and the basement, where the two parents spend a tender moment dancing to Neil Young, is cluttered with electronics and newspaper clippings. It reminded me of a story about the director David Lynch filming Blue Velvet (1987). Assisting with the design of Isabella Rossellini’s apartment, he was crafting little dust-bunnies and placing them under the radiator. The camera wouldn’t catch these, but a detailed and carefully constructed set establishes the reality for the actors—ultimately serving the audience.
By the time the creatures inevitably attack—at which point the movie ratchets up the intensity and doesn’t let up—the conceit of the movie is well established, the characters somewhat thin but with a good deal of chemistry and enough has been let on to know they’re in serious danger. I won’t spoil anything that happens in the final third; I think it’s enough to say that, when the credits rolled, I felt my body relax after unceasing tension.
Befitting the 50s creature feature vibe, the attackers in A Quiet Place offer many interpretations, which I think film fans will enjoy debating for years. It stands apart from classics of that era like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1958) and Them! (1954), in which human society is disrupted by otherworldly invaders. Here, the world is already laid to waste, resulting in families retreating to their roots in isolation. Rather than fighting for the continuation of modern civilisation, these characters have nothing left to fight for but their peace and quiet.
Feature image via filmdaily.co