For the few of you who don’t already know the premise of “A Quiet Place,” let me preface this review by saying that it is a very simple movie.
Written and directed by John Krasinski, “A Quiet Place” takes place in a dystopian America where a breed of blind monsters with highly evolved hearing have killed off most of the population by attacking anything that makes noise. The protagonists are some of the few who have been able to adapt their lifestyle radically enough to survive.
This is a movie with a single idea: silence. I did enjoy the film, and I don’t want to use the venomous term “gimmick” to describe it, but I think there is some truth in its application here.
This gimmick is treated with care by Krasinski and his creative team. Their love for the film is written all over. But for the life of me, I can’t understand all the critical and popular acclaim it’s garnered recently. The film just feels a little bit meager, a bit underfed to be deserving of so much publicity.
Krasinski plays the nameless father while his real-life wife, Emily Blunt, plays the nameless mother. They endure in the wasteland in a never-ceasing quest to protect their children from the monsters. More complications arise when the mother becomes pregnant and the family must adapt again to living in a silent world with a newborn baby in tow.
The plot doesn’t contain much beyond this “keep quiet, run from monsters” model, in large part due to the lack of dialogue in the movie. But this simplicity of plot doesn’t detract from the quality of the film, especially when other elements are so solidly handled.
As a director, Krasinski does a lot of things really well. Sound is the sole driver of this nearing-on-thin plot, so it is imperative that it is treated with care and intelligence.
The filmmakers did just this, and avoided a lot of the pitfalls I anticipated. First of all, the treatment of music is perfect. I had a thought early in the movie that sound cues were, unfortunately, going to give away many of the suspenseful parts of the movie.
In a traditional thriller/horror with dialogue, chit-chat between characters serves as a distraction so that the viewer doesn’t anticipate the jump scare. In this film, I was worried that jump scares would be too conspicuously prepared. But the sound designers had the clever idea to incorporate a pounding drum and bass score into a large portion of the film while the characters flee the monsters. Thus, the emphasis is less on catching the viewer off guard with startling jump scares and more with crafting terrifying scenes at greater lengths.
This is where the movie utterly succeeds. Others disagreed with me, but I found the first act to be particularly slow. The film takes its time establishing the silent world, pointing out interesting details within the world (cotton balls as pieces on a monopoly board rather than traditional pieces, etc). But once the action between monsters and family commences, this is one absolute powerhouse of a horror movie.
The PG-13 rating in no way detracts from the terror of this movie. It shreds the nerves; it is an assault on the casual viewer. This was one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen in my life. I call this a success, and I’d recommend that every reader see it to decide whether they agree.
There is also the element of Krasinski’s emphasis on family and morals: This is undoubtedly a movie with a heart, which qualifies the horror scenes in an interesting way. In many other horror movies, I find that a significant part of the sense of dread stems from an utterly cynical worldview on the part of the movie. The horror comes from the sense one gets that the world is a disgusting, forsaken place.
In this film, one finds hope in the parents’ love for their children. This eliminates the cynical affect mentioned above and lends a different feeling to the horror scenes. They are relentless and pounding and hard as nails, but they are not sickening (with the exception of one scene that I won’t spoil here). This, I think, has to do with why “A Quiet Place” isn’t quite the perfect horror movie everyone seems to think it is.
The movie feels like a natural next step for Krasinski. In an effort to break out of the goofy doughboy ethos mercilessly attached to him by years as Jim on “The Office,” Krasinski has been taking more traditionally masculine roles, first as the lead in Michael Bay’s “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” and then on the television reboot of “Jack Ryan.” It would seem appropriate that he create the role of a father-protector for himself.
But this decision as well as many others in the movie feel forced. I think it would be impossible to discuss this movie without touching on its relationship to “Get Out,” another recent thinking person’s horror movie. Krasinski said he was influenced by “Get Out” during the creative process for “A Quiet Place,” and it is obvious that he wanted to pilot a successful auteur project that would inevitably garner critical acclaim, much like “Get Out.”
However, Krasinski takes his premise a touch too seriously for it to work. The plot is simple by design, but Krasinski thinks this simplicity is more profound than it is. In the film, the father reveals to his son the secret that they can speak out loud to one another next to the river, because the noise of the breaking water shields their voices from the monsters’ hearing. This seemed intuitive to me before Krasinski explained it, but he treats it onscreen as a moment of revelation and an opportunity to milk some contrived father-son bonding out of the scene.
Krasinski’s acting is fine, but he wears a grimace and little else. One thought that I had, as I watched one of these many grimaces, was that he seemed to want to force the viewer to believe his melancholy by the physical power of his grimace. This, I think, is representative of the entire film. The horror scenes with the monsters are terrifying, but only because of how hard they pummel the viewer.
Ultimately, what we have here is a solid thriller with a unique premise. I just wish Krasinski had treated it with a healthy dash of lightness or irony, or to loosen up the pressure just a bit. One walks out of the theater feeling as though they’ve gone 12 rounds in the ring with Krasinski. And he’s bulked up, people. He’s not Jim from “The Office” anymore.