In the horror genre, sound is an essential feature that filmmakers frequently utilize in order to create tension and execute on jump scares, be it through a lack of sound or perhaps the violent sting of a violin as the scary sight shocks audiences. It’s often that we watch characters in these films shush each other and emphasize remaining completely silent, or else the boogeyman (or alien, or deranged killer, etc.) may hear them — and we all know what comes next. The latest high-profile horror release, A Quiet Place, from actor-director John Krasinski, takes this idea and pushes it to its limit in a taut thriller based around a family who must make as little noise as possible, resulting in one of the most innovative and emotionally reverent horror films of the past decade.
The film’s efficient opening introduces its minuscule cast of characters and the intricate relationships they share, as well as the barren, post-apocalyptic world which they inhabit. We’re afforded an explanation as to what went wrong as we quickly come to discover that fierce alien creatures have decimated much of the world’s population. These blind, armor-plated beasts resemble the Xenomorphs of the Alien franchise, possessing nimble bodies and intense strength, but what makes them truly terrifying is their ultra-sensitive hearing capabilities that allow them to hunt their prey with ease.
At the outset, the film places us in the company of the Abbott family, which consists of five members, as they scavenge for supplies three months into life post-invasion. There’s parents Lee and Evelyn (played by real-life husband and wife John Krasinski and Emily Blunt), as well as their three young children, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe), and Beau (Cade Woodward). If it isn’t enough that Lee and Evelyn must care for three children in such a hostile living situation, they also must account for Regan’s deafness (admirably, Simmonds, the young actress who portrays Regan and does a wonderful job here, is deaf herself). While this introduces some problems, her disability actually presents a unique advantage for the family as well: proficiency in sign language. Much of the film’s dialogue is presented through signing (aptly translated into subtitles), allowing the characters to communicate without making any sound. This is vital to their survival, as the creatures, while not necessarily large in numbers, pose a lethal threat at all times through their ability to hear even the slightest of loud noises from large distances.
The opening also works to set a distinctly grim tone for the remainder of the film. As the Abbott’s leave the drugstore that they’ve raided and head back home — walking barefoot through a trail of sand they’ve placed in order to deafen their footsteps — the youngest child, Beau, retrieves a noise-producing toy his father told him he couldn’t have. It’s easy to assume that Beau, who can’t be any older than five years old, doesn’t fully grasp the gravity of the situation, and he ultimately sets off the toy, consequently alerting one of the creatures to his presence and sealing his own demise.
The story then jumps ahead a year to find the now-foursome managing to survive on their farm in upstate New York. They tiptoe around the large-sized property that’s equipped with multiple defense systems, including visually-assisted alarms, noise-making distraction measures, and a sound-proof cellar they’ve been constructing. It’s also here that we come to find Evelyn far along in a pregnancy, complicating things even more than ever expected. And while it appears that the family is as ready as can be, not only to fend off the alien threat but to also appropriately suppress the birth of the child and subsequent noise-making with the aforementioned cellar, horror screenwriters — Bryan Woods and Scott Beck in this case — always seem to find appropriate ways to mess everything up, don’t they?
The first half of the film is pin-droppingly quiet as Krasinski opts to give the looming alien threat the backseat to crucial character development and world-building. Long before the halfway point, I was invested in these characters and yearned to discover more about them. Small moments in the first act grants the audience a fair amount of time to breathe, before the incessant climax that makes up much of the latter half of the film steals away all the oxygen in the room. There’s some genuinely gorgeous scenes here, like one in which Lee and Evelyn slow-dance, sharing a pair of earbuds, along to Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.” And while the couple’s surviving son, Marcus, becomes the least significant character in A Quiet Place, the scene of bonding he has with his father at the river is one of my favorite moments of the film. It works both as a way to further develop the two characters, but also conveys important information about the hearing potential of the alien creatures.
A Quiet Place becomes far louder in its pulse-pounding second half as the family becomes split up and the creatures invade their land. Beginning in the second act and continuing all the way through to the brilliant final shot, Krasinski’s film is relentless, moving from one intense and inventive set piece to the next and making for an undoubtedly edge-of-your-seat experience. Finally, the aliens are shown in more detail, and they’re legitimately frightening, albeit awe-inspiring to watch. I must commend the visual effects artists for creating such creepy creatures, and make note of the surprisingly outstanding CGI effects displayed here.
These set pieces work so well only because of Krasinski’s apparent talent for shaping suspense, as well as his inclusion of well-placed foreshadowing. And while A Quiet Place is a feat in many ways, it is most importantly so in its stunning sound design, which emphasizes near-silent moments juxtaposed with high-intensity explosions of loud noise to great effect. Really, it’s an awesome aural experience unlike anything you’ve heard in a film before. And to be quite honest, there’s not much of anything negative I can think of to say regarding A Quiet Place. Along with every positive aspect I’ve mentioned above, the film also highlights strong acting ability from all involved, includes compelling cinematography by Charlotte Bruus Christensen, and ultimately reveals a cogent message of hope in a setting almost completely hollowed of such a thing.
A Quiet Place is a damn good horror film, and I’m not afraid to vocalize that very loudly.
4.5 stars out of 5
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor