Staff, Arts Writer
Much has been written about the new thriller “A Quiet Place,” which premiered the first week in April and has now grossed over 110 million dollars in the United States alone.
The film has quickly become a favorite of critics and movie-goers alike, and is expected to top 130 million dollars by the end of the week. So what makes the film a hit?
Yes, the screenplay (written by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods and John Krasinski) is good; it offers a new twist on the classic “creature feature.”
But what makes the movie stand out is how it is directed—entirely by Krasinski.
The first scene opens with the simple declaration “Day 89” in a recently vacated-looking community.
That brevity of a descriptor establishes early on this is not a story about HOW things have come to be but about what happens next.
The audience may never learn what happened before Day 89, but the information will not be missed; the exposition just isn’t necessary.
All the viewer needs to know is everyone must remain very, very quiet lest they attract the attention of terrifying, blind creatures with an amplified sense of hearing. They are also wickedly fast, which is why no one really has much information about them. If you make noise, you will die. Quickly.
Early on, Krasinski commits a film “taboo” of sorts, illustrating the extreme danger in which they find themselves.
That event seems to be a starter pistol for a tense cinematic experience, and the pressure never really lets up; for an hour and 35 minutes the audience simply doesn’t get a break.
The next scene brings us to day 473, and we slowly realize the wife (who is never named in the movie, by the way; none of them are as conversation just is not a key component) is pregnant.
The implications of that itself becomes a subtle, yet brilliant, cinematic tool. Nothing need be explained as you come to ask two rather horrifying questions: How will she give birth in complete silence? And HOW do they plan to keep a newborn quiet? It is a rather interactive narrative tool—your understanding of the inevitability of terror works to build suspense and engage the audience as a whole.
The plot synopsis is pretty straightforward after that: this family needs to survive and they are in an impossible situation.
How they silently navigate their own survival borders on brilliance in terms of direction.
Traditionally, when one sees a horror or thriller movie, sound plays a huge role in indicating mounting tension and release. That is not the case here.
Krasinski basically removes sound from the experience—that absence creates an absolutely delicious tension.
Not only is the audience invested in the characters (which could have been a challenge considering we know so very little about them), but we actively participate in a deadly quiet game. The audience is also silent—not only do they fear the “monster” itself, but they fear noise, including any they might make. The result is very little popcorn snacking, no whispered dialogue and an unrivaled intensity.
Krasinski capitalizes on this interaction as he foreshadows potential tragedy.
For example, a close-up of an errant nail on the stair or a child’s toy with a battery emphasize their precarious existence without overdoing that technique. They also cause the viewer to understand how simple self-defense is not possible; guns cannot be used because they will compound the threat.
This family is hunted by vicious predators and they really have nothing in their arsenal—nothing that can be maintained, at least.
In that sense, “A Quiet Place” is artful, understated and exhausting. At the end of 90 minutes, you will feel taxed, entertained and thoroughly spent.
In fact, its simplicity sets the bar rather high for any horror/thriller to follow; after watching this, cheap suspenseful manipulation and “horror” standards will just seem shallow and incomplete.
This is a new kind of show, and you will like it.
One element that has caused Rotten Tomato users to score this as a 95 on the Tomatometer include the acting.
Krasinski also stars in the film with his real-life wife Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe and a young, deaf actress Millicent Simmonds.
Simmonds emerges as a new talent whose hearing loss becomes almost a super power in this movie.
Because of her, the family is fluent in sign language, so all of their acting is delivered almost entirely with nonverbal communication and facial expressions.
She is adept at expressing herself and being convincing.
In fact, in one interview, Simmonds argues the characters’ “signing style” reflects their personality (i.e. the father is focused on protecting his family so his signs are “curt and short,” whereas the mother uses more “poetic” because she is trying to provide her children with “a much bigger life”).
No other film in recent history celebrates the deaf community as this one does—and none illustrates the potential complexity of even basic sign language.
Krasinski quickly becomes a beloved father and husband, and we care about what happens to him; we are in the moment with him, and we feel his helplessness and conviction.
As talented as he is, however, Blunt steals the show with her realistic portrayal of silent labor and maternal devotion—which brings us to the other reason why this movie works so well.
This is a movie about familial commitment and parenting.
In many ways, the setting becomes a metaphor for parenting in general; how often parents feel helpless to protect their own children even as they feel an undeniable, physical need to do so.
Krasinski creates an emotionally imposing landscape adept at expressing anguish, tenacity and renewal.
That landscape is delivered in a beautiful mosaic of what is expressed and what cannot be expressed—what we hear and what we cannot.
The result is a glorious tension that one reviewer, Josephine Livingstone, remarked “in ‘A Quiet Place’ the primal scream that makes people in agony or fear or rage becomes a nuanced cinematic object. This is a movie about the sound of fear, but it gives us a great deal more to listen to.”
Finally, this is an economic film; not a single scene is wasted.
When the film ends, rather jarringly, you are almost violently expelled from this dense and creative world Krasinski has created for you.
Some may be surprised to learn this is a PG-13 film; there is no real gore or cheap horror tricks to muddy the waters. Many people may want to wait to see the movie later on demand, but that would rob them of that cinematic, communicative experience.
In short, go see this. Go see this soon—it is well-worth the price of adult admission and snacks galore (just make those quiet snacks as to not unnerve your fellow viewers).
As one person noted, “Jim has certainly come a long way from pranking Dwight,” and it is true.
Krasinski has proven himself as an actor (think “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” “The Hollars,” ‘Manchester by the Sea” and “Detroit”). But this film also establishes him as a director with whom to be reckoned and a storyteller with staying power.