A Quiet Place (2018)

APRIL 3, 2018

GENRE: MONSTER, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (ADVANCED SCREENING)

The scariest horror movies are usually the simplest - people (including me) may love the Saw sequels, but they're never scary in the slightest, because they're too bogged down in their labyrinthine plots to lull you into being frightened. I'm not sure why so many horror movie writers seem to be ignorant of this, but thankfully, John Krasinski of all people isn't one of them, as his newest film A Quiet Place (his first foray into the genre) is so stripped down to its bare essentials that it practically makes the likes of Halloween and The Strangers seem complicated in comparison. The earth's population has been decimated by monsters that will kill you if you make a sound, and Krasinski is the father of a family trying to survive under those circumstances - that's it. There's no human villain, no team of scientists babbling on, it's just a few days in the lives of these people living out their very quiet life, and how they react when things go astray.

And Krasinski (along with original writers Bryan Woods amd Scott Beck) conveys this without much of an ability to say so, since there are only about a dozen spoken lines in the film. A few newspaper headlines clue us into the monsters' origins (a crashed meteor, not that it matters but I'm sure some joyless twerp would complain otherwise), but the "rules" are laid out in an opening sequence - along with the consequences for breaking them. I liken it to an old arcade game like Pac-Man or Space Invaders - you didn't need tutorials or manuals for those games, as they were simple and quick to grasp just from looking at their basic layout. It's the same thing here; even if you went in blind, it'd only take a few minutes to understand the plot, which is that our heroes need to be very quiet or else they'll die. Communication is carried out through sign language, every action is done gingerly (I never thought I could tense up watching someone try to put a battery down on a counter, but I have now), and you damn well better watch your step to avoid creaky floorboards and the like.

As for the creatures, their design is a mixed bag. They move so fast it's often hard to get a good look at them, but they're kind of like Xenomorph shaped, with heads that unfold like flower petals to reveal their well tuned eardrums (in fact, since they're blind and seemingly can't smell their prey, their heads are basically just giant ears), i.e. kind of generic all purpose modern movie monsters, nothing iconic that you'd instantly recognize ten years later. I couldn't tell if they ever had any practical ones, but I don't think they do, which is a bummer but at least it's high quality CGI and they're used sparingly, plus there's no real "interaction" to speak of - if they're close enough to touch you you're already dead anyway. But it's not free of analog's pleasures - Krasinski and DP Charlotte Bruus Christensen shot on film, and it looks spectacular, in addition to giving it that old-school look the plot itself invoked. If not for an iPod the film could have been set in the 1970s (and to even it out, the song they listen to on it is an oldie: Neil Young's "Harvest Moon"), and I swear it was to give the film that bit of humanity (Krasinski and wife Emily Blunt dance to it, sharing the earbuds) that he didn't just go ahead and make it a period piece.

But look there could be hovercrafts and VR displays on every corner and it wouldn't take away from the main appeal: the movie is scary as all hell. And if you've been reading my nonsense for these past eleven years (Christ...), you should know that's not something I say often. Think of all those great "don't make a sound" kind of scenes in movies (not horror, but the "suspended over the computer" scene from Mission: Impossible would be a good example) as well as every super nerve-wracking monster scene (like when the aliens finally come through the roof in Signs, or the basement scene in War of the Worlds), and string them together/stretch them out for a feature, and that's what you get here. It's also the rare use of LOUD SOUNDS to make a scare that actually makes contextual sense - when someone accidentally knocks something over or steps on a crunchy thing, the sound team cranks up the sound, and for good reason, because every noise might as well be the loudest thing possible, being that the monsters can detect it instantly and move at lightning fast speed to catch you.

Even better, it might be the first horror movie that's cell-phone or talk proof, too. It's not like the film is mute; there's a score and things like wind rustling or water dripping - i.e. rhythmic, natural sounds - don't set them off, but it only takes a few minutes for the film to start affecting your own behavior. I took a sip of my drink and it slurped a bit, so I instantly froze up, and I noticed the lady next to me being oh so cautious as she removed her sweater to put it on the seat next to her. I'm sure there will be assholes ruining it somewhere in the world, but as this was a free radio station screening and I didn't see a single cell light the entire time (and only minimal whispering, though it was a big auditorium so perhaps I just got lucky), there's hope that your crowd will be just as into it and playing along with the whole "shut up or die" approach. The movie only offers spoken dialogue twice; Krasinski and his son talk for a bit behind the masking sound of a waterfall, and the former shares a conversation with his wife in their tiny somewhat soundproof room that they've set up. The rest of the time, any noise you make is liable to get a dirty look from one of your fellow moviegoers, so it's best to follow the rules.

I recently joined Letterboxd, more for my own memory to keep track of what I saw over the year, and thus had to start rating films. I gave this four (out of five), and it woulda been four and a half (fives are reserved for my all time faves) if not for two things. One is, ironically, the score - it's got a lot of that BWAARMMMMMMMM stuff I dislike and it's just kind of generic, so it was intrusive given the whole "quiet" nature of the thing. There's one pretty good cue near the end during a key moment involving the family truck, but otherwise I woulda been happier if Krasinski opted to have no score at all. The other one requires a spoiler about the opening scene, so if you want total blindness skip the rest of this paragraph. For those still here, the opener is a gut-wrenching moment, when a careless action from their youngest son ends his life, and it largely works - but only because the parents inexplicably walk ahead of their two children, one of whom is deaf. I get why Krasinski would want to lead the way, but why Blunt is right behind him instead of her children, who cannot call for help (and in the deaf one's case, hear any danger behind her) is a complete goddamn mystery. I get that they had to hammer home the consequences early on so that we knew just how careful they had to be, but I wish they had figured out a more logical way of presenting it. Still, at least the movie's biggest narrative blunder is at the top instead of the end; I had mostly forgotten about it by the time it was over.

Otherwise, I was totally on board with the film. Sure, if you start thinking about what we don't see you might have questions, like how they were able to establish their routine without making noise to implement it, i.e. stringing up warning lights and setting up radio equipment, and if you've seen the trailer you know that Blunt's character is pregnant, so that raises some possible logic flaws (I satisfied myself by assuming it was an accidental pregnancy and they had neither the knowledge or resolve to terminate it). But 99% of all movies have those kind of issues, and you're kind of missing the point if you try to go beyond what they're showing. It's a scary movie first and foremost, designed to keep you grabbing your armrest or partner's hand for 90 minutes while reminding people like me that you're never above being frightened by what's on screen. I wouldn't be surprised if it grossed over $100m, and I hope it's the start of a new, more Blumhouse-y direction for Platinum Dunes (yep, this deliberately paced, quiet movie was produced by none other than Michael Bay). Plus it's nice to see Paramount getting a win after all their troubles - it's a shame they already blew their chance at doing another Friday the 13th, but that just gives them more incentive to create new ideas like this.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. I was really disappointed. Great premise with so much promise, but entirely wasted.
    I find it hard to believe the family had not discussed a ton of Plan B's. "If we get separated, go here and wait til morning" and strategically placed noisemakers everywhere.
    I must've missed it, but what is they're power source?
    Some interaction with the other neighbors would've been a welcome break.
    Ending was yuck too sadly.

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