Get Out, It Follows, The Witch. These are modern horror films we still talk about because of a standout premise. A Quiet Place joins these ranks with a strong hook of its own: everyday noise as something to fear. It’s a harsh, scary film that pulls no punches and makes excellent use of sound.
A Quiet Place has a simple setup, where the rules are clearly established: The world is overrun by blind monsters that track you by sound only. This leads to an hour and a half of pure tension. Common things like a toy that makes noise or a dropped bottle of pills can lead to disaster, and not just when the creatures are in the next room. It’s a smart concept that keeps your eyes and ears focused throughout the film.
In a typical horror film, you have the baseline noise–dialogue, music, background action–punctuated by the volume spike of a scare. With A Quiet Place, it’s the range in between, the innocuous everyday sounds that would be harmless in any other movie, that keep the tension flowing.
The Abbott family is the center of attention, composed of mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt), father Lee (John Krasinski), daughter Regan (Millicent Simmons), and sons Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward). These names are never actually said aloud in the movie, and it doesn’t matter. In fact, there is a miniscule amount of spoken dialogue throughout the entire thing, making those few verbal moments more intimate. The family dynamics are clear from the opening scene, and that familial warmth from everyone makes you care about them as one unit. Their performances come together to forge a believable family in a hellish world, where simply getting through the day is a silent struggle.
Krasinski pulls double duty as the film’s director, and he was able to coax out great moments from his cast. Most notable is Simmons, a deaf actress who taught her co-stars American Sign Language. This spotlights a method of communication not often seen in movies, but her performance goes far beyond hand motions, with a face that moves between expressions of happiness, sadness, and fear. She portrays a girl whose heart is also in emotional pain, largely over finding her place in this post-apocalyptic world. She thinks about the future, how best to protect her family, and how these things are made harder because of her disability. It’s far from the stereotypical moody teenager.
The Abbotts’ way of life is also clearly established early on. They walk on sand to hide their footsteps, sign to each other with ASL, and find ways to cook and clean while minimizing their audio footprint. But even during these would-be normal moments, the threat of making a sound is ever present. It adds a layer of unease to what would otherwise be dry scenes, especially in the opening act. That time is also spent foreshadowing setpieces and objects that later factor into the action in significant ways. A conversation between a father and son beside a river illustrates that you can speak aloud in this world, but only when another natural sound is louder than the one you make. The movie sets a strong tone of danger at all times, with rare moments of peace or joy.
Once the setup is complete, the plot takes a basic “survive the night” turn as a monster invades the family farm. The Abbots silently fight for safety, though there doesn’t seem to be any deeper meaning to the action beyond getting out alive. That said, the movie is not afraid to constantly ramp up the danger. Brief moments of respite for the Abbotts are quickly undone, either by a monster creeping into the scene or someone making accidental sound, from the opening to the credits. Watching Blunt deliver a baby while the monsters stalk about the house is harrowing.
The smart use of sound also leads to a few pleasant moments. At one point, Krasinski and Blunt dance to a song played through her iPod’s headphones, the only time music is heard in the entire film. The tone overall is pessimistic, but these few moments of happiness help you empathize with the Abbotts even more. They’re complemented by cinematography that uses equally warm colors, and a few striking reds during particular moments of tension.
A Quiet Place does its job well: It clearly establishes ground rules, continually ups the danger, and makes dynamic use of all types of sound. Any hope of progress or safety in this world can be crushed by a dropped object or even the soft crying of a baby. There are precious few seconds where the Abbotts–and you as the viewer–can relax. While it certainly doesn’t shy away from trying to make you jump, it’s the sonic nature of the scares and unending threat of everyday actions that make this film stand tall.
|Constant threat of sound keeps you on the edge of your seat
|Pretty basic “survive the night” plot
|Fantastic sound design
|Thoroughly explores its premise