A Quiet Place (2018)

28 Nov

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Horror films can generate effective scares with ominous music & dialogue…but a horror film like John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place” is one that reminds me how easy that can be. What’s tricky is building suspense and creating thrills through visual storytelling. “A Quiet Place” manages to pull it off, and it’s one of the best horror films in recent memory. (And even though we’ve had many terrific horror films in the past couple years, one of which was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, I don’t think I’ll call that “hyperbole.”)

“A Quiet Place” is centered on one family: the Abbotts (Krasinski as dad, Emily Blunt as mom, Millicent Simmons as daughter, Noah Jupe as son). They’re one of the few families that are still surviving the aftermath of some sort of alien invasion, even as many of the otherworldly creatures still stalk the earth. Life as they know it has ceased to exist for a long, long time, and they rely on two things in order to survive—one is each other, but the most important is complete silence. You see, these things attack at the slightest loud noise, and being that they’re still in their area (and even killed off another family member in a creepy prologue), living in silence is the best way to maintain survival.

We don’t see the attack—the film begins on “Day 89,” after it. We’re not even entirely sure as to how it happened. (Though, we do get some imagery such as newspaper headlines to give us a few clues here or there.) We just know it’s not as important as what survivors have to do next. These unfriendly beings took over our world, and our main characters just have to deal with it. That’s a neat hook, and it’s interesting to see how people in this new world get through their daily routines with almost total quietness. (They also communicate through sign language, as the daughter is already deaf—that detail itself raises suspense as she wouldn’t be able to hear a noise she herself may cause.) Things start to get even more dangerous when the expecting mother is about to have a new child, and everything has to be set in order to protect the family during the delivery. But no matter what they do, danger still comes for them…

The tone and atmosphere play an enormous role in the film’s success. The quiet in this film is practically deafening; it made me realize how claustrophobic it can make someone feel. When a loud noise finally comes up, you’re instantly on-edge because you can’t shake the feeling that something terrible is about to happen… Krasinski proves to be a masterful director in how he can rely on visual storytelling to keep the audience engaged and on the edges of their seats, and he uses the simplest methods to keep us invested. (One particular setup involves a nail…you know what that’s going to lead to, even if you don’t know when it will pay off.)

An obvious comparison is M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs,” which also featured an alien attack from the perspective of one rural family in a farm setting. But with this particular family trying to find ways to keep quiet while trying to stay together, you can’t deny they have more complications to encounter in this particular case.

The gripes I have with “A Quiet Place” are mere nitpicks. While the sound design is carefully controlled for the most part, it’s when Marco Beltrami’s musical score kicks into gear during certain scenes that the effect those scenes could’ve gotten are somewhat lost in translation. And while I give credit to Krasinski for not dwelling on early long shots of the creatures, which are CG spider-like beasts, I wish he could’ve continued that “less-is-more” technique in the climax. And for a film that does so well in relying on silence to scare us, it still couldn’t resist a few jump-scare moments here or there, unfortunately.

But I can’t let little things like that get in the way of how I ultimately feel about “A Quiet Place.” It’s a gripping, compelling, scary, well-acted, wonderfully-shot chiller. It’s a terrific exercise in quieting down and using understated terror methods to get a reaction from us. And…yikes, that nail…

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