A Quiet Place
Updated: Jan 6
Where can a reviewer start when assessing a film so atmospheric that noisy popcorn eaters were supposedly accosted in cinemas for piercing the unremitting silence? This is perhaps the best compliment and publicity a film like A Quiet Place (John Krasinski, 2018) can get, a cinematic legend akin to that of early cinema goers who allegedly fled their seats upon seeing the Lumière Brothers’ Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1896). Both tales capture the essence of the shared experience of the theatre space of cinema and both demonstrate an immersion into the medium so intense that real-life danger seems quite possible. And, of course, both are, to put it politely, almost certainly exaggerated. Nevertheless, A Quiet Place is clearly able to nail a tone through its creative use of sound and this is at the heart of its appeal, projected through the title and the way the marketing capitalises on the high-concept nature of the film. But what if we explore Krasinski’s directorial debut without lingering too long on its central device? Does the atmosphere alone make A Quiet Place an excellent film and do other aspects hold up if we look past this bold concept?
Initially, I must admit that this kind of contrarian review of Krasinski’s film is immediately flawed. The silence in A Quiet Place is not a mere gimmick, in fact, it is the entire foundation upon which the film is built, a framework which permeates analysis of any other features. Therefore, rather than trying to avoid the concept entirely, I must instead identify whether Krasinski uses this ingenious foundation as the platform for a wholly innovative and original film, or whether the film lives and dies in its totality on this central premise.
A Quiet Place is a film set in a fictional post-apocalyptic world, and as such, it must achieve two things. It must build a realistic, fascinating setting for a viewer to explore, and then it must do something interesting within that world. Success in either of these two facets without the other leads to a squandered opportunity, a potentially great film sliding into the realms of merely ‘thought-provoking’ or ‘exhilarating, but baseless’, the latter perhaps equivalent to what Scorsese has famously dubbed “theme-park” movies.[i] A Quiet Place achieves the former criterion admirably, its silent universe unique and intriguing, complete with attractive imagery that helps draw the viewer in. A farmhouse surrounded by lights, like a Christmas tree that signals the comfort of home, until, inevitably, things go horribly wrong. A trail of salt leading to a beautiful woodland bridge, and beyond to the ruins of civilisation, a vision of paradise that is, inevitably, shattered when things go horribly wrong. And the monsters too are stunningly realised, a foe both mesmerising and terrifying in equal measure, their unique threat coming with an equally unique design that really lends A Quiet Place extra dimensions of fear and watchability; majestically threatening, until, inevitably, things go horribly wrong (mercifully, sealing the fate of the monsters this time instead of the plucky human survivors).
The trouble comes in finding truly interesting things for the characters to do in this brilliant world. Krasinski’s film is entirely based around a family of five characters, living in isolation from any other survivors and trying to find a way to live something resembling a regular family life in this new normal (why does that ring a bell?). This is an intriguing, if slightly limited, take on the post-apocalypse genre and things soon start to spiral into chaos, the second half of the film playing out like a more generic cat-and-mouse horror narrative (with the added bonus, of course, of the extremely tense silence). The small cast, however, are all excellent, Emily Blunt and Krasinski echo real life as a married couple, and special mention must go to Millicent Simmonds, a seriously exciting new young actor with a frighteningly characterful face. These superb acting talents elevate even the most predictable parts of the film above standard horror fare, enhancing the tension further in the way their performances sell it to us.
The problem is, the film never seems to find a fifth gear. Its set up is excellent, but the careful, quiet action becomes a bit samey after a while, the novelty slowly wearing off, and the monsters losing their fear factor somewhat when they are evaded with relative ease. The final moments are reasonably cathartic, as the monsters’ weakness is finally exploited, but it’s difficult to shake the feeling that the final shot isn’t just a shameless ploy to set up a second movie, a sequel whose planned 2020 release has been delayed by certain world events. Let’s just hope that, if A Quiet Place’s creeping dread and powerless protagonists are reminiscent of Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979), with the cocking of her shotgun Emily Blunt is signalling that the sequel will have all the bravado and deeper world-building of Aliens (James Cameron, 1986). And more importantly, let’s hope that by the time A Quiet Place 2 is finally released, we ourselves aren’t living in the post-apocalyptic world of the movie.
At time of writing, A Quiet Place is available to watch on Netflix.
[i] The original Scorsese interview appears here: https://www.empireonline.com/movies/features/irishman-week-martin-scorsese-interview/. Of course, some films fail to meet either of the criteria I have laid out in this paragraph, and those are the ones you really want to avoid.