Not every horror film should reinvent the wheel. A great horror film can come with the baggage and tropes from decades of cinema, and likewise, bad can come from trying something new. A Quiet Place, the third film by John Krasinski (from the US version of The Office), wants you to think that it’s doing something new, and certainly on the surface, its post-apocalyptic, near silent, world is unique. However, underneath, A Quiet Place is that most traditional of tropes, the story of a nuclear family being protected by a father who would do anything to keep them safe. That it’s also one of the best creature features since The Descent doesn’t hurt at all.
Just over a year after most of mankind is destroyed by a race of creatures who hunt using sound, a family survives by keeping entirely silent, communicating through American sign language (ASL) and preparing their farmhouse for an upcoming birth. The patriarch (played by director John Krasinski) is dead set on protecting his family at all costs, though has a strained relationship with his daughter (Millicent Simmonds, incredible) who he appears to blame for a tragedy we witness early on in the film. His wife (Krasinski’s real life partner Emily Blunt) is worried about the dangers of bringing a crying child into a world where the slightest sound means instant death, and the build up to the birth is the spine of the film.
What the film achieves in spades is tension. From the outset, quiet is the film’s strength. Glass teeters on the verge of shattering, twigs can snap, and talking at almost any volume will bring death. The advent of a birth is reminiscent of Hitchcock’s theory of building tension, only instead of a bomb, there’s a baby. Krasinski stages set-pieces masterfully, bringing a Spielberg touch to setting up and paying off moments (one particularly brilliant sequence, involving a rogue nail had the audience wincing). All of this, combined with Marco Beltrami’s brilliant score, makes A Quiet Place a tightly wound piece of cinema. That it succeeds in relieving that tension and delivering an absolute barnstormer of an ending is credit to all of this. The final shot of the film is perfect, and will ensure the film’s legacy.
Where tension is the film’s greatest achievement, its star is Millicent Simmonds. A deaf actor, Millicent is incredible as Regan, easily the most complex character in the film. In fact, if the film has a flaw it is with the characters. Aside from Simmonds, Krasinski, Blunt and Noah Jupe (who plays younger son Marcus) fit neatly into the usual tropes of the genre. Krasinski’s character is the worst offender, a by the numbers father figure who has to do all the hunting, and feels solely responsible for the protection of his family. It’s telling that Krasinski cast himself in the role, and though he is a solid presence, his character never gets interrogated the way you would want, and the film gives him a sense of moral superiority it doesn’t allow any of the other characters. It makes for a frustrating midsection of the film.
Despite that though, the film works. Krasinski talks in interviews about watching Jaws, Alien and Jurassic Park and using them as inspiration and you can see that onscreen. The creatures are never truly seen in full, and the glimpses you get of them, claws on the wall, feet on the stairs, a horrible close up of a giant ear, are reminiscent of the t-rex attack in Jurassic Park. One set-piece in particular, involving a grain silo and a metal door, seems to be lifted wholesale from Lex and Tim’s windscreen close encounter with Spielberg’s dinosaur.
A Quiet Place then is actually pretty great. As a monster movie it succeeds, and Krasinski does a terrific job in delivering the tension and the scares. Aside from its final moments, which are truly wonderful, you just wish the film was a little braver with its family dynamics.
REVIEW BY DANIEL CARPENTER
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