Suppressing Sound to Survive in “A Quiet Place”
A Quiet Place
directed by John Krasinski
written by Bryan Woods & Scott Beck and John Krasinski; story by Woods & Beck
acted by Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe
presented by Paramount Pictures
running time: 90 minutes
MPAA- rated PG-13 “for terror and some bloody images”
by Bill Stamets
Beautifully made, “A Quiet Place” is a horror film about a family of five in a quiet place in the country. The Abbots walk, fish, dine, play Monopoly, homeschool and birth a baby– all while evading blind creatures of unspeakable ferocity. With preternaturally acute hearing and metal-ripping claws, they depopulated a nearby town. And possibly much of the planet.
John Krasinski directs, co-writes and stars in this atypical fright effort. He and co-writers Bryan Woods and Scott Beck install genre fixtures that do the job. But their premise and plot transcend generic set-ups that trigger less demanding fans. I enjoyed a handful of jolts, even if those sitting to my immediate right and left did not care to abide second-hand scares.
The opening title states “DAY 89” in white letters on black. An abandoned town, likely in upstate New York. A knocked-down red traffic light lays sideways on the street. “Missing” posters flutter on a bulletin board. The front page of the New York Post spells out: “It’s Sound.” Another headline, shown later: “YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN.”
Barefoot, the Abbotts silently loot a store. They use American Sign Language, subtitled on screen. Evelyn (Emily Blunt) picks through prescription drugs for her son Marcus (Noah Jupe). Lee (John Krasinski) hands a tool from the hardware shelf to their deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), who has a broken cochlear implant. The youngest, Beau (Cade Woodward), is denied a toy NASA rocket whose battery-powered engine roars could draw a creature.
Homeward bound, the family is hunted. We only see a blur racing between trees. Then comes the film’s title, followed by the laconic “DAY 472.” I guess that’s good news. The Abbotts are still alive? Bad news– the countdown is not over. Day 1 presumably marked the slaughter’s onset. From the dates of birth and death on a memorial, we can estimate the film is set about two years from now.
Although the animated logo for Paramount Pictures showcases stars from space racing towards a mountain peak, we cannot presume that design signals any extraterrestrial origin for the things terrorizing “A Quiet Place.” Although the second scene of Paramount’s recent “Annihilation”– alien life form imperils Earth– in fact shows a fiery object from the sky striking a lighthouse where whatever-it-is will make its new home. I watched “A Quiet Place” liking not knowing where its ghastly creatures came from. (After the press screening, a reviewer mentioned glimpsing a shot of a news clipping with the words “meteor” and “Mexico.” So just pretend you did not read that.)
Krasinski and cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen frame the quiet with subtle touches like placing the camera at ground level to catch footfalls. A similar inter-sensory challenge was met in “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” (2006), directed by Tom Tykwer. A non-alien character has a sense of smell as keen as Krasinski’s creatures. Scents he detects are evoked with sensuous close-ups of things, living and dead, emitting a gamut of fragrances, musks and stenches.
Krasinski and sound editors Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn compose the soundscape with naturalism. Regan’s audio perspective finds its way into the storyline to discreet effect. Her father’s failed attempt to solder a fix in her implant cues a discovery key to the family’s survival.
To my ear, the most inspired choice on the soundtrack comes when Lee and Evelyn share earbuds as they slow dance to “Harvest Moon” by Neil Young. To swoon to. One letdown is recycling the scary clicks of insectoid creatures dating from 1997, the year Guillermo del Toro’s “Mimic” and Paul Verhoeven’s “Starship Troopers” were released.
“A Quiet Place” is hybrid horror spliced with other genres. Horror purists will note the absence of the supernatural. No spirits torment the Abbotts, nor do ghosts haunt their house. The screenplay borrows from those westerns where a frontier family defends a homestead from outlaws or Indians. The Abbotts appear to have taken over a vacant farm; they are not the stereotypical farmers of Hollywood. One of their perimeter defenses did remind me of steps taken by the resourceful family of five in Disney’s “Swiss Family Robinson” (1960) when a pirate attack loomed.
“A Quiet Place” better fits on the sci-fi horror shelf alongside M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs” (2002), in which aliens encircle a Pennsylvania farm family. The urban and suburban iterations would be “The Purge” series of politically satiric horror films made by James DeMonaco in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Now the monsters are other Americans on 12-hour murderous rampages sanctioned by U.S. government each year as civic catharsis.
Truly original, “A Quiet Place” makes room for a sobering pause when Lee and Evelyn define their lives as defense of their children: “Who are we if we can’t protect them? What are we?” The matter-of-fact nobility of those lines segues– a bit later in a deft tonal shift– to that screen cliche of a badass mama bear wielding a shotgun and doing one of those one-handed reload pumps, `bring-it-on’ style. Without a word.