Thursday, 6 August 2020

A Quiet Place (2018)

John Krasinski needs absolute silence in A Quiet Place


Director: John Krasinski
Cast: John Krasinski (Lee Abbott), Emily Blunt (Evelyn Abbott), Millicent Simmonds (Regan Abbott), Noah Jupe (Marcus Abbott), Cade Woodward (Beau Abbott)
I think we can all agree that 2020 has not been a good year. But it could have been worse: in A Quiet Place, by 2020 mankind has been almost completely wiped out by blind extra-terrestrial alien predators who use their super-sensitive hearing to hunt down survivors. Even Covid-19 doesn’t sound quite as bad as that. To survive demands absolute silence as even the slightest noise could lead to a pack of the ruthless, seemingly invulnerable, aliens descending.

The few survivors include the Abbott family, on an isolated farm somewhere in the American countryside. Father Lee (John Krasinski) has painstakingly converted the house as much as possible into a silent place, with sand on every walking surface outside, sound proofed rooms, batteries out of everything that could make a noise, light and camera warning systems and strict rules on no shoes and no talking – nearly all communication is done in sign language, which the family is fluent in because daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf. But there are troubles on the horizon – not least because Lee’s wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt) is heavily pregnant, and the chances of childbirth – and a new-born baby – happening in silence is dangerously low.

A Quiet Place takes a fresh and ingenious concept and lays it on top of a story that otherwise hits a fair number of expected tropes. But that doesn’t matter too much when the story is told with such freshness and confidence by Krasinski and the idea at its heart genuinely feels like something we’ve never seen before. This is a film where just the very prospect of sound is tense, and noise is the principle villain. And for anyone who’s ever tried sneaking past anything silently, you’ll know how hard it is to say absolutely silent.

The concept means that even the sight of things we know could cause sound builds tension. A nail sticking out of a step to the basement causes huge worry (because we know standing on that barefoot is really going to hurt). The running through a field of wheat suddenly feels like a terrible risk. Just a glass falling off a table could lead to death for everyone. As for the tension you feel at the possibility Evelyn could go into labour and need to deliver a baby in total silence…

It’s the skilful use of everyday concepts like this that gives the film a special sense of dread. This is added to by putting a very clear family unit at the heart of this drama. At root, this is a film about the lengths that parents will go to in order to protect their children and to try and build a safe world for them. Lee is determined to pass on as many of his survival skills to his son, while Evelyn struggles to keep some form of normality going in their home. The family is also coping with deep-rooted grief and unspoken tensions, falling out from the tragic loss of one of their members early in the invasion. 

This adds a further generational tension, with the father struggling (on some level) with feelings of guilt at his own failure to protect his family and shamefully feeling some blame towards his daughter for partially causing the events that led to this death. The daughter in turn fears she has lost her father’s love, and can never be forgiven by anyone (including herself) for her mistakes. While there is nothing earth-shatteringly original about this, it helps us to invest solidly in the family and to care deeply about what happens with them.

Krasinski’s direction is sharply acute and brilliantly detailed and his own performance extremely humane and engaging. He also gets an equally fine performance of tenderness and determination from (his real-life wife) Emily Blunt, while the work from Simmonds and Jupe as their children is equally well-judged and excellent. This work is particularly impressive since most of the film takes place in near silence – there isn’t a clearly spoken word of dialogue until almost 45 minutes in and no verbal conversation until nearly the hour mark.

This involving family drama sits very comfortably in the middle of a horror concept. So well in fact that it doesn’t matter that much of it pretty unoriginal or even a little predictable. After a first reel shock, the film settles into more expected rhythms. There are certain gaps that raise questions – I had to wonder how Lee and his family managed to build so much in this collection of theme houses while making no sound at all? While the weakness of the creatures seems so obvious, I’m amazed that it was never stumbled upon while governments and the military fought against them. 

But that doesn’t matter too much when A Quiet Place is largely an involving thrill ride with emotive characters whom you care deeply about. And on that score, Krasinski has made a fine horror thriller with a concept that will make it stand out in the memory from other genre pics.

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