Director: John Krasinski
Writers: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, John Krasinski
Starring: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe
It might be safe to say that we’re at an impasse with regard to a particular rung in modern cinema. It may very well become a pattern that artisans in this field who traditionally make their mark in the genre of comedy will make the transition into horror. I’ve written before about the precept that comedy and horror have many parallels and overlaps both in general and in their particulars. A Quiet Place and all that it entails reinforces my convictions on that matter handsomely.
Violence/Scary Images: A young boy is attacked (and killed offscreen) by a monster; he’s quickly snatched away in the blink of an eye. Children are in jeopardy. A monster kills a raccoon and a blood spurt is shown. A woman’s body is torn to shreds. A bare foot steps on a protruding nail, with blood puddles. Blood puddles in a tub. Bloody handprint. Some guns and shooting. A man commits suicide by screaming and letting monsters grab him. Family members argue. Jump scares/sudden noises. Small baby placed in a box (to protect him from monsters).
Language/Crude Humor: None.
Sexual Content: A pregnant woman gives birth offscreen.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Bottles of prescription drugs shown; pill given to a sick boy.
Spiritual Content: None.
Other Negative Themes: Dreary post-apocalyptic setting.
Positive Content: Bravery and teamwork can overcome difficult odds. It’s important to overcome fear and self-doubt. A deaf girl is allowed to be a real character, not defined entirely by her deafness, and characters communicate via American Sign Language.
The father is shown to be resourceful and caring toward his family but also fearless when it comes to protecting them.The mother is endlessly brave, also while protecting her children. Violence is sometimes required, and children are sometimes placed, inadvertently, in harm’s way. A character blames herself for a tragedy, and another family member learns that to tell her he loves her means more to her than he can guess.
Even though it really didn’t do much for me, there’s no denying that Jordan Peele kind of shocked the world last year with his directorial debut of Get Out. That a well-known comedic video artist would so boldly try his hand at a deathly serious horror film was surprising enough. That said film managed to be so provocative while displaying some genuinely innovative maneuvers with standard fright scenes is certainly worthy of note. For many, the idea of a comedian taking the helm of a horror flick so naturally comes as a bit of a jostle. How could someone who is so skilled at making people feel good with laughter also be so adept at making people feel unsettled with terror?
Contrary to popular impression, laughter and terror have many fundamental commonalities. Both are involuntary reactions to unexpected occurrences that can awaken us to unrealized truths if treated properly. Likewise, those who make a profession of delivering laughter and/or terror in the field of entertainment play remarkably similar roles. Archetypally speaking, comedians are akin to the jester in the king’s court. They are usually the only ones in the court who are allowed to speak truthfully as they are beneath contempt. They also tend to arise when the truth becomes too uneasy or offensive to the emotional or intellectual constitution of the general populace. We all naturally entitle comedians to speak in ways that we feel far too uncomfortable to speak ourselves, and the laughter they produce provides a useful means of engaging with those unapproachable truths.
The genre of horror, properly used, is much the same. The most effective horror stories are the ones that address and engage the facts of the human experience that we all think about at one point or another but almost never talk about out of fearful reservations of many sorts. The best horror artists are those brave souls who look those tough truths straight in the face, explore them through the universally regarded paradigm of narrative, and provide us with a digestible means of wrestling those same dark truths on our own terms. The similarities to comedy are quite explicit when seen on this level of analysis. Oftentimes we respond to tense, awkward, or uncomfortable situations with both fear and laughter alike. Sometimes both at once.
With that said, I can honestly say that I’d be quite ecstatic if more comedic artists took up the task of revitalizing the horror genre, as it is a genre that has been in need of fresh insight for quite some time. Get Out left me largely unsatisfied due to the rather self-contradictory plotting and thematic strains, but I saw the potential for others to follow suit and I hoped and prayed that someone would. Enter A Quiet Place.
Written, directed by, and starring former producer and director of The Office John Krasinski, A Quiet Place is just the kind of horror story that I can say we’ve been needing for quite some time. Deceptively simple and humble in its scope with just the right number of characters, locations, events, and turning points to be effective, it is my pleasure to say that whatever your reaction to this story, there is no fat or excess to be found anywhere here. Shoot, even the ending is perfectly cut at just the right time.
Krasinski and his actual wife Emily Blunt play a married couple on the lam in the post-apocalyptic remains of what seems to be a town somewhere on the American Appalachian trail. They scavenge for supplies and necessities all the while being as silent as they can possibly manage, communicating through sign language only. Through an act of the children’s defiance, tragedy befalls the family, and we are introduced to the threat–large blind extraterrestrial creatures with extraordinary strength and speed that hunt by sound.
This is a very simple setup for a standard monster movie, with the monsters being designed in such a way that the human survivors have to adopt a very unnatural way of operating in the world in order to stay alive. What I was not expecting is the extent that the film went to in order to define and establish how this family lives in a world of complete and utter silence. A moment before a family dinner in which the parents hold hands with their two surviving children (Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe) to share a silent prayer was one of the most poignant moments of bonding and there is not a word spoken among any of them.
The deafening silence that purveys the entire affair of this story was one that put me in a deeply reflective mood as silence tends to do. Human beings are not creatures very well accustomed to living without sound. We depend on our sense of hearing a lot more than we may think. All too often, our first warning of danger is sound. Complete silence often can feel suffocating, as it is the main way in which we communicate our thoughts. There have been reports of people being driven to the brink of insanity from too much silence. A story like this in which a main feature of the human social experience is now potentially fatal presents a threat not only to the characters’ lives but arguably to their very humanity.
Krasinski made the praiseworthy choice of having the only daughter of the family to be played by the actually hearing-impaired Simmonds, who was perfectly happy to coach the rest of the cast in American Sign Language (ASL). Krasinski was smart in bringing on board a young acting talent who actually lives a life of silence brought upon by a disability that would be a grave threat in the context of the story. The family has to lay down indicators in the wood floors so that Simmonds’ character Regan may be able to navigate the house silently. The whole practice of raising a family without the aid of sound presents a number of elevated dangers throughout the home and necessitates a fascinating reengineering of mundane tasks.
In one key scene, the two children are shown playing Monopoly by rolling the dice on a thick rug and using soft plush novelties as tokens in lieu of the hard metallic items. In a later moment, a very ordinary house hazard is elevated to a deathly level of concern in a situation where the very last thing you should ever consider doing is screaming. The family also walks barefoot as much as possible with paths of sand laid about their survivalist farming homestead to avoid any unnecessary sounds. On top of all that, the mother is very pregnant. This will obviously be a serious problem when the due date comes. Babies make a lot of noise. So do their moms when delivering.
It was very enticing–albeit disquieting–to me that even in this world of death and haunting threats, bringing new life into the world is still seen as a worthwhile practice. In fact, not only is A Quiet Place an incredibly smart horror film with a very effective handle on genuine tension and fright; it is also one of the most well-executed family films in recent memory. The drama that unfolds among the family members with Krasinski’s character (named Lee Abbot in the credits) leading with an odd mixture of strength and palpable uncertainty is the heart and soul of the film. It is the light that shone incredibly brightly in this world of darkness and desperation.
Regan blames herself for the tragedy that befell the family early on, and her arc is learning to recognize and accept her father’s love that she feels she no longer deserves. Jupe’s character Marcus is burdened with the responsibility of possibly becoming the man of the house should anything unfortunate happen to his father. Lee and Marcus take regular trips out into the wilderness so as to educate Marcus on the extent of the threats that they face from the monsters that prowl the land. Blunt’s Evelyn seems to express the desperation of the situation most explicitly with her performance. It is a performance in which she displays genuine maternal strength and resolve with the same level of ferocity and dedication that she displayed when facing another form of alien threat in the woefully underrated Edge of Tomorrow. That all of this is delivered almost entirely in complete silence is an achievement I’m still trying to process.
The performances from the whole minimalist cast were certainly worth the price of admission alone, but there were faults in some other areas that held the film back at times. As innovative and gripping as the basic horror premise of the film is, there are conventional turns and choices here and there that took me out of the experience. The musical score can get a little overzealous at times in an attempt to not leave the audience feeling like they’re a part of some silence experiment. One scene of the children being trapped in an immobile vehicle with one of the creatures gnashing about reminded me immediately of a similar scene from Jurassic Park. The advantage that the family attains to combat the monsters is one that could be seen from a mile away even though it’s treated in the movie as a third act revelation.
In fact, these creatures that furiously hunt down and destroy any source of unwanted noise got me to activate my social commentary side in a way similar to how Black Panther did but in a more pleasant manner. Generally speaking, the creatures that populate the genre of horror are symbolic representations of actual widely-held fears that may or may not be legitimate. The vampire was originally conceived as a satanic figure and in recent decades was refashioned as an embodiment of social fears regarding sexual exploitation. Godzilla was born out of a collective fear of nuclear weapons in post-war Japan. The modern fascination with zombie fiction is suggested by many to be born at least partially out of fear of over-population. I personally think that the truth behind that fascination is a bit more nuanced and complicated than that, but that’s a talk for another time.
As for the creatures in A Quiet Place? I find it best to view them symbolically as embodiments of the modern drive for censorship of “offensive” speech that we see happening on the cultural and political landscape today. On countless American college campuses, we’ve recently witnessed many instances of similarly blind and monstrous ideologues who seek to eradicate from anywhere around them all utterances that could be deemed “toxic” or “problematic” to their ears (which is dang near everything). Like the carnivorous beasts of the film, these typically leftwing radicals hunt and seek out with comparable speed and ferocity to destroy the sources of invasive expressions with no regard for the people they undermine and ruin. The easiest way to get them to target you is to cry out in opposition to their drive to silence all who are not of their kind. It’s worth noting that in place of the speech that the monsters so effectively bring to nothing, they have nothing of value to offer in its place but an area devoid of any thought, life, or progress.
I find this assessment bolstered by the fact that its writer and director is a comedian. Many stand-up comics like Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock have made the resolution to no longer perform on college campuses because of how politically correct that arena has become. The role of the comedian is often to offend the audience with humorously inconvenient truths, so it would make sense that they are the foremost marks of the beastly folks who seek to rid the land of any offensive sounds, so as to make their environment as cushioned with the void of completely agreeable silence as they can manage. Is it possible that Krasinski entertained the title A Safe Space but thought it too on-the-nose?
The third act reveal of how the family gains the upper hand against the beasts also plays into this perspective. Without spoiling anything, I found it analogous to the fact that the one thing that leaves these hypersensitive radicals stunned is to make them aware of how self-defeating their own broken and misconceived utterances are; to essentially repeat back to them their own tenants through another node of thought and watch them writhe and squirm with their own self-contradictory worldviews. But the one feature above all in this film that really convinces me of the veracity this symbolic analysis? The institution of the natural traditional nuclear family has been a primary target of these restless postmodern reformers for decades, and it is a such a family that is the primary target for eradication in A Quiet Place.
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