People online be getting all sniffy. ‘I wanna watch A Quiet Place in cinemas,’ they say, ‘but teens and phones and I can’t trust them to be quiet when the film’s on. So I won’t.’ Ah, suck it up, stop being so precious and go see the goddamn movie. It’s pretty good. For what it’s worth I caught an evening screening, opening weekend, fairly full with a younger audience and everyone in our theatre were locked in from the start. Once the film make it clear what it’s doing you’ve not really any choice, it’s get in or get out.
The film’s ‘thing’, for what it’s worth, is that it largely takes place sans spoken dialogue (except in a few select scenes). The world seems to have been invaded by a creature that hunts by ear. An opening coda taking place shortly after their arrival, helpfully spoiled in all the trailers, depicts the death of the youngest member of the Abbott family. We then flash a few years forward to see that they have gone full protectionist; living a silent, self sustainable life in a country farmhouse.
First thing that needs be shouted out then is Brandon Jones’s exemplary sound design. He fills the mix with the well observed sounds of life, the wind whistles and the house settles. There’s an extraordinary play that the sound maintains, especially in these great moments of tension. The juxtaposition of the extremity of on screen and the chill that’s going on sonically. It’s also a conceit which allows the film’s director and star John Krasinski to play with the shape of a horror beat.
Like, okay usually if you’re gonna be orchestrating a fun jump scare, y’all want the action to go quiet for a moment then a lot of sound and a lot of movement. Here the film is working on tension, when things go wrong, the precariously balanced lamp falls and shatters that’s when you get the noise, but there’s no action to be had. Everything goes still and quiet and you wait for the beast to lurch into the scene. Then whatever escape plan needs to be carried out must be done in near total silence.
It’s was clearly a lot of fun for the assembled writers. The film itself is a tight ninety and spends most of its time being concerned with the spilling out of a mishap which causes one very bad evening for the small family. Every new twist the plot takes represents another way for them to prove their own smarts and devise a new way for our heroes to wrestle control of the situation.
Sure, at times it’s exhilarating and maybe a might improbable in that action fantasy way. But at others it makes the world feel conscious of itself, not in a bad way but in a way that is empathetic and understanding to the way of living that these folks must now take. That said, it kinda clearly written by three dudes. There’s a nervy, half-there gender essentialism bent that runs underneath, and you’re never really sure how self critical the flick is of this aspect and it mostly just feels out of place, especially when you got cast Emily fucking Blunt.
The production design is lovely, the care that they’ve appended to this homemade soundproof basement is just gorgeous. Somebody realised at some point that of course the family must be vegetarian, and what with no way of refrigeration they’ve an entire wall of pickled assortments.
Would that the same sort of fun were had in Krasinski’s direction. I assume it would be a producer’s note at some point that everything needed to be explained more clearly, there’s a disappointing crazy wall full of newspaper clippings that clearly elucidate the fall of society. A big whiteboard that says ‘Strengths: Hearing, Speed. Weaknesses: ???’ it’s one of the more clumsy pieces of visual storytelling we’ve seen recently. His big action scenes fall down the line of predictability, his execution focussed and clear but lacking in the invention of a more established artist. Sometimes his grip on the tone of a scene will slacken, especially when he’s aiming for something really heightened.
Also the score that’s been placed over the top of the picture is a little overbearing, feels like it’s trying to make up for something that it really don’t need to.
For those complaints though, it’s easier to miss what he flick properly nails. The characters, and their relationships are rock solid. A lot of it evolves from the casting, he and Emily Blunt, playing his wife, have this easy chemistry and the roots of their experience effortlessly inform their interaction with the young actors Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe who put in commanding terms as their children.
Also the filmmakers made the right choice in casting a deaf actress to play a deaf character. From their interviews it seemed like she became an integral part to the development of the actors’ characterisation and understanding of ASL. It’s another grand reminder that casting your films authentically is literally only going to be a good thing for your production. Krasinski is on his way to becoming a major player, let’s hope he remembers this lesson.
And Krasinski is going to get big, possibly huge off the back of this. He’s the sort of guy they’ll give a franchise to, especially with Michael Bay in his corner. I nitpick, but it’s a good movie. It feels weird to be saying that a thriller needs to just loosen up a little, but here it’s just sorta the case.
A Quiet Place is currently screening in UK cinemas.