Director John Krasinski’s twitchy monster movie A Quiet Place contains shots of a whiteboard, with rather elementary information written on it. The potential number of beasts in the immediate vicinity, for example, and basic techniques for survival in his morbid vision of the future. In almost any other film this would constitute a laughably rudimentary form of visual exposition – but Krasinski, who also stars in one of the principal roles, has a pass card, courtesy of a conceptually interesting script written by himself, Scott Beck and Bryan Woods.
A Quiet Place is set in a world where humans no longer speak because the slightest noise can get a person killed. Blind alien creatures with acute hearing arrive out of nowhere, leaping from the shadows for impromptu human-gorging, then scurry off again. This is obviously a utopian future for librarians. And a world where, at last, bagpipe players get what they deserve – though the ravenous critters do not discriminate among who they kill.
Like last year’s blander and loftier It Comes At Night, the film is based in the aftermath of an unspecified catastrophe with the opening moments introduced simply as “Day 89.” Krasinski begins with a short scene-setting montage: of an overturned traffic light, empty streets and derelict buildings. After a visit to a grocery store, a family expedition ends in tragedy. Parents, Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and Lee (Krasinski) lose a young son at the hands (Fangs? Claws? Legs?) of these awful monsters. They have two other children: deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds, who is deaf in real-life) and Marcus (Noah Jupe).
Emily Blunt, is affecting from the outset. She provides an unnerving picture of motherhood, comparing reflex love to calculated survival.
The film jumps ahead, revealing a bump in Evelyn’s tummy. How on earth will she give birth silently and how will they raise a baby in a noise-free environment? Locked doors, apparently, do not cut the mustard in this world. Lee has been working on a weapon against the alien killers, attempting to turn their hearing into an Achilles heel, but is yet to invent a workable solution. After the dramatic opening reel, Krasinski slows the pace down, before spectacularly cranking it up again with most of the action taking place on the family farm.
A Quiet Place has a jittery, keyed up, anxiety-filled second half. Despite some B movie residue, in the novelty of the premise and no shortage of ‘bump in the night’ spooks, it is pro-human and pro-intellectual, reinterpreting ‘survival of the fittest’ as ‘survival of the smartest’ and more emotionally controlled. It depicts human behaviour as changing according to context, expressing hope in the adaptability of the species.
The Lovecraftian elements are reduced to simple details in both design and ideology. With their revolting, saliva-dripping gums and sharp teeth, and their infernal, rote horror breathing and hissing sounds, Krasinski counters an unconventional premise with thoroughly ordinary creatures. And while the core theme of a parent’s desire to protect their children will hardly date any time soon, the film’s impact is more visceral than emotional. The most vivid moments constitute familiar situations revisited – such as characters walking down creaky steps, or hiding behind objects while trying to control their breathing.
Horror films have always espoused social messages. A Quiet Place, however, follows a recent batch with particular issues on their mind, including It Follows (STD anxiety), The Witch (feminine independence), The Babadook (single parenting) and Get Out (systematic racism). Krasinski’s film is tougher to pin down. Is it about the hardships of being a father or a mother, in a world of uncontrollable variables? It certainly isn’t about the value of taking solace in quietude; silence here is synonymous with terror.
It takes a little while for Krasinski’s performance, and the performances of the younger actors, to strongly resonate, though everybody gets there. Emily Blunt, however (who is married to the actor/director in real-life) is affecting from the outset. She provides an unnerving picture of motherhood, comparing reflex love to calculated survival. Stripped of rudimentary means of catharsis that any of us would take for granted – like howling in pain or frustration – it is an intensely interesting performance. There are times when the ferocity of the film rises, as if to match her. And there are times when Blunt makes you forget that the monsters she is hiding from are straight out of central casting.
A Quiet Place opens in Australian cinemas on April 5