I thoroughly enjoyed A Quiet Place, even though I can’t stomach horror movies. Thank Thor RunPee Sis craves those films, or I don’t think we’d have Peetimes for them. But, you know what? A Quiet Place isn’t really straight-up horror — or more accurately, it’s a sub-unit of such: scary suspense. And those are perfectly fine viewing for movie-goers who don’t enjoy being frightened witless, or mentally disturbed after bedtime. I can do suspense. After all, Alien and Signs are among my favorite films. Take heart, and see this movie if you’re unsure.
Silence. Shhhhh. Both showings I attended were dead quiet — the hearing-a-pin-drop kind. When one person rustled their bag for popcorn, the room en mass shot dirty looks at the unwitting assailant. I’ve since read this spontaneously happened across theaters every night, every time. One person directly in front of me made two near-silent coughs and took herself right out of there. Good call. We might have just as silently killed her for it. Such was the magic of attending this kind of movie, a rare theater-only experience. (Only films like Avatar, Titanic, and the first Jurassic Park are really the main theater related “experiences” I can offhand recall.)
If this was an art-film made to showcase a dialog and soundtrack-free production, or an old-timey silent film, I wouldn’t be interested. The only things I could previously appreciate was a silent (and also scary) TV episode of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. As it was, I was entirely, and enjoyably, gripped.
Our only exposition are the many news clippings tacked on basement walls, things panned too quickly to really read. Are the aliens Death Angels of God? Aliens from a Meteorite? Subterranean creatures from a cave in Mexico? It’s enough. It doesn’t matter. More important are the words scrawled on the family white board: THEY HUNT BY SOUND. THEY ARE ARMORED. Local Area has (3) confirmed.
That’s all one needs for the story, and we’ve guessed most of that by this point.
Like in Signs by M. Night Shylaman, we get a one-family take on a War of the Worlds theme, and it really works. The stakes are upped — as we see by the nightly lighting of fire beacons, they may only be small pockets of humanity left. We’re talking a few local outposts with the intelligence and ingenuity to live in silence indefinitely.
And more pointedly, we see up close several reasons WHY this family does so well. There’s a well-equipped barnhouse bunker as a birthing room and sanctuary, and a sound-proofed box for their soon-to-be squalling baby, equipped with working oxygen supplies. There’s enough tools and sundries for any end-of-the-world scenario. Who needs zombies when you have this?
Outside the bunker, the family knows to walk barefoot and not make sounds in surprise or pain. All common pathways outside are deeply lined with sand, any squeaking steps in the house are clearly marked for avoidance, and red lights are strung about to announce an attack. The father keeps loud rockets in his pockets to draw off intruders. He knows you can speak under a waterfall, how to set traps for fish, and where to forage in the empty towns for supplies he can’t make himself.
He also, almost too fortunately, knows how to construct high-tech hearing aids. And this is also where A Quiet Place treads too close to Signs, where the daughter has an extremely fortunate habit of leaving undrank glasses of water everywhere in the house. In A Quiet Place, it’s all about a coincidentally “different” daughter again. Their daughter was deaf and the family knew sign language? Impressively useful. How convenient the father kept tinkering with better hearing devices? Yeah, yeah. But you know what — in the entire world, surely this scenario would occur somewhere. We just follow the family that has it going on. While it’s less comedic (read: never) than Signs, it’s a story that actually makes more sense.
So they’ve got things mostly covered. It sounds…doable. They manage for at least a few years. And that’s where things get going, in deadly earnest. In spite of all their planning, Emily Blunt’s character breaks her water early. She’s alone in an unsound-proofed area, in a tremendous state of pain and terror. We remember (from the prologue) that the family was used to grabbing pain killers from an empty pharmacy. But then, more than a year goes by. Blunt’s character didn’t take any pills when her contraction begins and never gets the chance later. That’s a difficult enough birth under normal circumstances.
But her suffering has to be silent; absolutely so. No moaning, screaming, nor normal crying. She bleeds out in a bathtub with an lethal alien crawling about the room. This is gripping storytelling. I went in a second time to watch this scene, because Blunt portrays her character’s experience entirely, compellingly, with only eyes and expressions. Her hands grip her womb, seemingly to keep the baby safely inside, or push it out quickly, to somehow protect her baby from the consequences of its first cry.
This is one versatile actress. Remember when Blunt’s big debut was as a supporting break-out character – that self-absorbed mean-spirited assistant from The Devil Wears Prada? Her main goal in life was eating just enough cheese cubes to keep from passing out (the better to carry off size 00 couture from Paris). Her smaller roles became leads, including an aggressively skilled warrior in Edge of Tomorrow, and a pathetic, grief-stricken soul from Girl On A Train. These are wildly diverging roles she carried off with deftness and verve.
In A Quiet Place, there aren’t great set-pieces or sparkling dialog to carry the film. It doesn’t offer much in the way of visuals, either. (It’s a somewhat claustrophobic movie, as a clearly Hitchcockian-inspired flick would be.) Blunt shoulders nearly the entire movie with no more than a few words of wistful, pain-wracked regret. These rare lines don’t serve to propel the action or plot: they’re just quiet moments of drama.
John Trasinski (as the father that is – directorially he’s superb) does a fine job too, but this isn’t his movie. His character’s climactic sacrifice, however, lends a tragically necessary gravity to the story. Life ends, life begins. There’s no happy ending, just the reality of survival.
The denouement confused me at first. As they watched their land’s video cameras, I thought the rest of the family was about to be overwhelmed and snuffed out. Talking about it among the RunPee family showed me it’s actually a thread of hope. Now that this family knows how to kill the aliens, they can wipe out the local pocket (tow more left) of intruders. They can reach out the the local families (right, as seen by bonfire) and show them how to do that too. And from there, hope for what’s left of humanity can spread. I’d watch that sequel.
Which leads me to announcing there is a sequel, or maybe a prequel in the works. The Quiet-Verse has lots of stories to tell. If there’s a franchise to be had here, I can only hope all involved want to craft any subsequent movies as perfectly as they did this one. Earning a rare A+, all a normally reluctant horror-phone can say is: see this film.
Movie Grade: A+