A Quiet Place
Director – John Krasinski
Cast – John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe
Rating – 4.5/5
Spend enough time inside the ‘Quietest Room in the World’ and, if firsthand accounts are to be believed, you will slowly begin to lose your mind. Within the first few minutes, you will learn that even the slightest movement of your body – a twitch of the shoulder, a gulp, a shrug – makes sounds. In about 15 minutes, you will begin to lose your sense of space – you will be enveloped in darkness, sonically and mentally. Your screams will be loud, but they will die almost instantly – there are no echoes in the Quietest Room in the World. No one on the outside will be able to hear you. After half an hour, you will faint.
It’s unlikely that John Krasinski’s new film replicates these sensations – although you will gasp, you will perspire, and you will certainly be able to hear your heartbeat – but A Quiet Place has that rare ability to evoke not only psychological reactions, but also physical ones. And it’s Krasinski’s first time directing horror, which, probably after comedy, is the most difficult genre to get right, and the easiest to mess up.
What this film does – and so many other horror movies don’t – is that it has the patience that is so necessary for horror to work. So often with these films we see an almost scientific approach to scares – it is almost as if a committee has sat down and decided that to be effective, the film must hurl unseen objects towards the audience, and punctuate moments of silence with loud bangs. This never works. And Krasinski’s approach as director is to systematically dismantle these sad trends that have overtaken mainstream horror films these days. A Quiet Place is an effortless distillation of the three elements that define filmmaking: sound, light and actors.
With barely 10 lines between the four of them, the central actors convey such raw emotions with just their faces that it makes you wonder why performances such as this are never up for Oscars. This happened last year with Split, in which James McAvoy knocked it out of the park with the performance of a lifetime. In A Quiet Place, there are scenes in which you can feel, along with Emily Blunt and John Krasinski, the fear of emerging death, the pain of actual death, and the freedom of potential death.
And there isn’t really time for anything else in their world, a world whose stakes the film establishes in its very first scene. There is a larger story here, of course, but A Quiet Place is utterly unconcerned about the machinations of governments and the epic final stands of the military. All it cares about is one family, united by loss, and grappling for survival on an almost daily basis.
They live on a large farmhouse surrounded by a dense forest. In the forest lurk mysterious creatures that are attracted to sounds. Hearing these sounds sends the creatures into a murderous rampage, which was perhaps the reason why most of humanity seems to have died – ‘they hear you, they hunt you,’ is the film’s catchy tagline. The Abbotts are still alive, even after 479 days, but only because they’ve taken all the precautions. Their home is surrounded by lights, their bunkers are stocked, they speak only in sign language, and they have enough evasive manoeuvres planned in case of an emergency.
And it takes A Quiet Place less than five minutes to establish its imaginative setting and to set up its ingenious rules – all of which it does wordlessly. For nearly all of its 90 minute run time, A Quiet Place is virtually silent. In an age when loud explosions are seen as currency, this is a film that savours the whistling of the wind, the blowing of a breeze and the rustling of autumn leaves.
Every time one of Evelynn and Lee Abbott’s children steps on a broken twig, or topples over a lantern, you will experience what true horror really feels like.
And because of this limited scope, we, as an audience, are freed of all the excess that is usually slathered on these movies – it doesn’t matter what brought these creatures to our planet, it doesn’t matter whether or not there are pockets of survivors hidden away, and it doesn’t matter if the Abbotts will survive till rescue comes.
All that matters is the next moment. And to sustain this level of suspense for close to 90 minutes is a task even some of the so-called veteran horror filmmakers routinely fail at. In A Quiet Place, Krasinski brings an almost M Night Shyamalanesque tone – serene, unnerving, and when you least expect it, stunningly emotional. Beneath it’s genre thrills, it is a story about parenthood.
Krasinski, a parent himself with real life partner Blunt, mounts several immaculately conceived set pieces that are some of the finest you’ll ever see in a film like this, and it all comes to a head in the film’s centrepiece – a scene involving childbirth, featuring an Emily Blunt performance that works on more levels than you or I can comprehend.
If you’re lucky enough to watch it in a theatre equipped with a state-of-the-art Atmos sound system, it will be a revelatory movie-going experience – sort of like the first time you watched an IMAX 3D movie. It’s the sort of film that deserves to be experienced with a large crowd, where the slightest crunch of popcorn can earn you a solid stink-eye, with friends — you dragged along by force — sitting in rapt fear.