Three months into 2018, and it is clear that it is on its way of becoming the year of unexpectedly fresh studio surprises. From the clever comedies of Game Night and Blockers to the romantic Love, Simon and the meditative sci-fi film Annihilation. John Krasinski’s addition to these first quarter gems is a nerve-wracking, experimental horror flick A Quiet Place. Despite the grievances I have with the film, I felt that first and foremost it was mainly about bringing the audience together and having them actively invested in the film. In short, A Quiet Place more than succeeds on so many levels, and while experiences may vary depending on how respectful your audience is, my viewing of the film was an engaging, interactive time at the movies.
Co-Written, directed, and starring Mr. Jim Halpert himself, Krasinski makes a bold move in establishing himself as a talent to keep your eyes on. The minimalistic story opens on a family of five collecting supplies in a pharmacy in an abandoned town, communicating in sign language and picking up items with delicate care. The youngest boy wants to take a toy rocket and his father tells him that it is too dangerous to bring along, the sister sneakily allows him to have it anyway- and quickly we learn the danger of sound in this post-apocalyptic world as monsters approach the boy playing with his rocket. We focus on the family a whole year later dealing with the consequences of their world and preparing for the pregnant mother’s eventual due date. Because the story is so simple and doesn’t offer the answers to everything going on in detail, and especially seeing how the characters are not even named- the real substance of this movie comes from the technical work at play. A Quiet Place does enough to make the story serviceable, but this is mostly about the atmosphere.
While I mostly appreciated the approach, there was a lack of real characterization throughout the film. The children in particular came off as thin and underwritten. The daughter and her relationship with her father becomes a crucial moment of the story and it felt unearned as a result of the lack of time to explore it, it was a moment that would have been better had there been more context to bring weight to it. The dynamic also raised questions about patriarchal family households that the movie decided it was not ambitious enough to explore, leaving some tired implications into the mix. The son didn’t seem to have anything to do or have any distinct personality to add to the movie, and as a result felt extraneous. Then there’s the ending, I caught that this film was about the ways families can fall apart because of their inability to communicate, but I don’t particularly think that the concept was explored enough to have made a real statement. The ending felt more exciting to watch than it does to think about, after a wonderful third act it was especially dissatisfying. Another re-write of this before shooting would have done a lot for the material.
But when this movie kicks off, it is an exhilarating ride. Most of this film is a masterclass on sound design, production value and creating tension. The creature and set design are inventive and while this movie was lower budget, they go a long way into making this film feel as authentic as possible. The entire last half of this film is a chain reaction, where one scenario sets off a line of other events to happen and it all adds to a controlled level of stress that builds on itself as the film goes along. It doesn’t just beg, but it earns the audience’s attention. There are plenty of beats that are foreshadowed and presented to the audience visually, rather than told with dialogue. From the clicking calls of the monsters, to the building collapsing weight a toy falling on the ground has on this world, tied together with a haunting score, A Quiet Place proves it understands the methods of storytelling that can only be achieved in the audiovisual medium of film. Rarely ever do you see studio horror films aim for what this film does.
And when this movie works, Oh BOY it works! Mileage may vary but my theater was dead silent, and I could feel how much the tension got to them. I heard the sound of everyone in the theater holding their breath and letting go after a tense moment passed, I have had tons of poor experiences during movies, but for the most part no one said a word during this screening. If you could get an entire theater of people of different ages silent to get lost in a movie that means something was done right. This is where the movie shines the most given that you are seeing it with people who are also there to be enthralled.
What prevents A Quiet Place from being a new horror classic is that it never seems to fully commit to what it is trying to be. The first act of the film is littered with fake-out jump-scares which ultimately lessened the integrity of the film’s core gimmick to me. It is a cheap way to get reactions in a film that is otherwise full of sophisticated scares, it felt out of place to have so many of them. It felt like the studio thought the audience would be bored. I wish they had more faith in their atmosphere to create a slow-burn. Another poor move was to translate the sign language into english with the subtitles, an issue especially apparent with the first scene of the film. I didn’t feel like there was any information that wasn’t communicated by the visuals.
Oversights like these are to be expected by any studio directorial debut however, and most of A Quiet Place is so ambitious and well thought out that it really is hard to care- especially when the entire theater at once is on edge at once with full undivided attention. That’s pure, powerful movie magic and it shows that Krasinski knows a few things about the medium. Hopefully if he explores horror once again, he takes his sensibilities he established here, is willing to control his vision with a bit more polish, and go the extra mile.