REVIEW – ‘A Quiet Place’

The horror genre has always utilised the world of sound to terrify and unsettle its audience. Whether with those deeply disturbing demonic noises emanating from an innocent little girl in The Exorcist or turning something as innocuous as stirring a cup of tea into something completely unnerving in Get Out, sound has the innate ability to sometimes create more impact than any visual can.

But horror often works best by toying with the jarring polarity between total silence and startling tumults. In the lesser examples of this genre, it’s the cliché jump-scare. In something as downright ingenious as A Quiet Place, it’s the film’s entire angst-inducing premise. A premise which will have you on the edge of your seat, holding your breath, and desperately attempting to avoid creating any noise yourself. Leave the popcorn at the candy bar, folks.

Avoiding a rather unnecessary prologue (although a prequel is a tantalising opportunity), which keeps the film at a brisk 95 minutes, A Quiet Place begins on “Day 89.” As we move through the deserted streets of a desolate town in upstate New York, it’s clear something rather apocalyptic occurred 89 days ago. The shop fronts are lined with missing person posters. Cars and vans sit abandoned. Stores have been savagely looted. And it’s here we find the Abbott family on a mission to locate medicine in an empty grocery store.

Stoic father Lee (John Krasinski), his wife Evelyn (a sublime Emily Blunt) and their three young children, Regan (Millicent Simmonds, a revelation), Marcus (Noah Jupe), and Beau (Cade Woodward) carefully stalk the aisles of the store, barefooted and never making a sound. They communicate exclusively in sign language, as they quietly go about their mission. But an unspeakable tragedy soon reveals the nature of their total stonewall of sound. One singular noise can alert a vicious monster who will immediately spring from nowhere to annihilate the unfortunate soul responsible for the sound.

Jumping forward to “Day 472,” we learn through a series of newspaper clippings (one headline simply reads “It’s sound!”) these brutal creatures have all but ended civilisation. Or, at the very least, life in this region of the United States. Rather wisely, it’s never explained where these blind but audibly-advanced beasts came from or how it all began. Some things are far more terrifying when they’re left unexplained. The Abbott family have seemingly adjusted as best they can. They quietly prepare meals, eat without the use of utensils or plates, play Monopoly with hand-made woollen pieces, and continue to communicate by signing.

In a twist of fate, Regan was born deaf, meaning the family were already well-versed in the art of sign language, possibly explaining how they were able to survive the apocalyptic emergence of the deadly swarm of killer monsters. Lee spends most of his time achingly attempting to craft a hearing aid for his daughter, while desperately sending out morse code signals to any radio frequency he can find. Evelyn is now pregnant, creating an inevitable disastrous problem when the baby actually arrives. How do you keep a newborn completely quiet? And how does Mum deliver it while remaining silent herself? As Evelyn’s due date looms, and the family’s attempts to remain silent start to falter, the battle to survive becomes harder and harder for the Abbott family.

The premise of A Quiet Place is simple enough, and certainly not the first “family stalked by monsters” film we’ve been delivered. But writer/director Krasinki’s concept of one noise equals instant death creates the most uncomfortable yet intoxicating level of tension and suspense which will leave your heart racing throughout almost the entire film. The film shines through a series of wildly entertaining set-pieces, particularly Evelyn’s horrific labour and a terrifying Jurassic Park-esque confrontation with the creature inside a grain silo. But it’s the quiet, intimate family moments which elevate the film even further.

Even without the use of the spoken word, the family’s connection and devotion to each other is instantly recognisable and empathetic. Through the use of facial expressions (something Krasinski was a master of during his time on The Office) and body language, the actors consistently deliver the kind of performances normally akin to dialogue-heavy screenplays. This is particularly on display in the moments of true horror, where the actors are forced to convey their gut-wrenching terror without the usual screams and cries synonymous with this genre. It’s no surprise seasoned pros Blunt and Krasinski handle this effortlessly, but for child actors to deliver such silent but powerful performances is truly remarkable. Simmonds and Jupe are certainly ones to keep your eye on.

Blunt is the real highlight, delivering a performance which could be award nomination-worthy towards the tail end of the year. As a performer, she’s put through the ringer, especially in that labour scene, and she handles these scenarios with impressive grit and determination. Her devotion and motherly protection of her children is deeply touching, and Blunt has such wonderful chemistry with the two young actors, as well as nature chemistry with real-life husband Krasinski. It may be a cheat to cast two actors who are married with two children to play these exact roles on-screen, but it works tremendously well.

But its the production of A Quiet Place itself which ultimately shines the brightest, with the sound design taking centre stage in truly dazzling ways. Given the narrative’s importance of keeping sound to a minimum, the moments when a sound does break through are more key than ever. Each time a noise shatters the silence, it hits the audience right to the core, creating a startling and unsettling experience unlike anything else so far this year. You’ve got to assume Erik Aadahl, Brandon Jones, and Michael Barosky will be amongst awards contention this year. Marco Beltrami’s gripping score is also acutely and sparingly used at just the right moments, whether in building suspense or reaching for your heart. It raises the film from a mere horror film to something far more thrilling and visceral.

Then there’s the creature design, which, thankfully, is sensational. So often these monster films are let down by the eventual “big reveal” of the creature who’s been stalking our beleaguered protagonists (remember the disappointing of Signs?), but not here. Krasinski’s team has crafted something truly horrendous and terrifying, which could be the bastard child of the Demogorgon from Strangers Things and the alien from Cloverfield. Much like Jaws, we are agonisingly denied of truly seeing the monster until the film’s outlandish finale. But it’s well worth the wait.

There are some unfortunate pitfalls, namely a whole host of plot holes (Why is no one coming to help? Have the creatures decimated the government? Or the military? Why aren’t the monsters constantly distracted by natural sounds like wind or rain?) and unbelievable narrative and character choices, which can be rather jarring, at times. You come to expect these issues with any dystopian/apocalyptic narrative. If you’re able to suspend belief of these flaws, the film becomes far more richly enjoyable.

There has been a lot of hubbubbing about Evelyn’s pregnancy being far too outrageously unbelievable i.e. why would someone fall pregnant during such dark and dangerous times? Personally, my take was the pregnancy was likely accidental. And, quite clearly, she’s in no position to do anything but carry the baby to term. Yes, it may have been a wiser narrative choice if this was discussed by the characters (“Didn’t I warn you to wear protection, Lee?!”), but it’s far from fatal to the overall film.

But these are minor faults in such a sublimely entertaining piece of cinema. Much like Get Out opened our eyes to fellow comedic actor turned filmmaker Jordan Peele, A Quiet Place firmly establishes Krasinski as a filmmaker to watch. While he may not have the social gravitas of Peele’s work (not yet, anyway), he clearly understands this genre extremely well, and the film takes its place in the pantheon of great monster horror films.

A Quite Place is a supremely tense, deliciously thrilling, and wonderfully suspenseful rollercoaster ride which never lags and keeps you on your toes the entire time. You’ll have an absolute ball, and that’s exactly how a truly terrifying film should make you feel. Just remember to breathe…quietly.

★★★

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