A Quiet Place
Terrifying audiences has been a favorite goal of filmmakers since before movies routinely included sound. Horror, as a cinematic genre, remains among the most popular categories of movies and is frequently the choice among nascent filmmakers seeking to launch a career in the entertainment industry. Relatively expensive special effects can turn a freshman opus into a blood and guts extravaganza certain to create a degree of buzz and provide a reasonable return on that meager budget, the problem with this approach is that overuse has forced these wannabe masters of horror to consistently escalate the carnage by devising increasing the repugnant nature of the effects. Often, they are not included to assist in setting the ambiance of the story but as a surrogate for a coherent plot. It has gotten to the point where movies devoid of tradition character development or situational progress overshadowed and ultimately supplanted by the depiction of inflicting indescribable acts of inflicting pain for the sake of sadistic satisfaction, known as torture porn. Movies lead by the ‘Saw franchise has made viscerally induced horror the dominant force in the genre. There has always been an alternative to the visceral shock that had been popular back during a time when such heinous presentations were actively against the popular sensibilities, psychological horror. Frightening the audience induces a longer lasting effect in mind than any gross or shocking sight can produce. I can remember being revolted by ‘Saw’ in a removed sense, but the feeling of terror crafted by a film like ‘Wait Until Dark’, still induce feelings of increasing terror decades after the first time I watch it in the RKO Madison back in Brooklyn, in the sixties. This trend is reignited as demonstrated by a phycological thriller/horror winning Best Original Screenplay for ‘Get Out,’ a nearly ideal example of psychologically induced terror. Hopefully, this is catching on and is poised to replace the extreme slasher flick as the must-see movie in the Cineplex. The film under consideration here, ‘A Quiet Place,’ is a substantial move towards achieving this goal.
Traditionally, a psychologically driven narrative begins slowly, carefully establishing the framework of the setting and laying the foundation for the necessary plot elements. This movie breaks many of the rules, not only for horror in general but the thought-provoking terror inherent in the specific sub-genre. The screenplay by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck is a masterpiece of literary efficiency. They have collaborated on a few previous scripts of less successful movies of similar category. The provided backstory is simply conveyed, in 2020 humanity finally received proof of extraterrestrial life. Alien creature descended upon earth and within the space of several months laid waste to civilization. Most of the human and animal population was reduced to almost nothing by monstrous shift and effective predators. Lind, they hunt using their large extraordinal ears capable of detecting and targeting the slightest sound. The Abbott family provides the primary point of view, parent Lee (John Krasinski), his wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt), congenitally deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), and sons Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward). Several of the casting choices might be considered as ‘stunt casting,’ but in each case, the decisions made were based on entirety by exceptional talent. The girl portraying the deaf daughter is hearing impaired, John Krasinski not only plays the father, but he directed this movie, and Ms. Blunt is his real-life wife. This is the first time they worked together professionally.
The budget was a mere $17 million garnering a domestic box office more than $50 million. These facts are particularly germane to this consideration since such a fiscally sound and critically sound investment is certain to be noticed by the frequently myopic Studio executives. A sequel is already in process, but more importantly, it provides substantial evidence that psychological horror films are fin sound and artistically viable. Hopefully, this will have lasting repercussions ending the reign of the torture porn movies. Among the plethora of elements comprising this film that contributed to its unique presentation and ultimate success, one that remains most impressive is the way it can juxtapose a thought-provoking story through tropes that have driven the genre for generations. A creature features able to persist in you mind juxtaposed with a deeply emotional, character-driven drama. The appearances of the creatures are kept to a minimum, deployed not merely for a jump scare, but more importantly, emphasis on the intense conflict established by the characters responding to the perfectly crafted circumstances of unending terror. In those classic fifties, creature features that many of us grew up with, the victimized protagonists were usually generalized, a city or perhaps a county. A smaller group is defined to expedite audience relatability. This format is present in this film, but the details are intrinsically different, painted with a much finer brush.
The family has always been the element unit of every culture, society or civilization. The reason the Abbott family has been able to survive and eke out a semblance normal life. The attention to the details is incredible, Mr. Krasinski is best known for his popular role in the American version of ‘The Office.’ His career behind the camera is in its burgeoning stage but with this movie so early in the redefined career bodes exceptionally well for the future. Several interviews with Mr. Krasinski and his real-life spouse, Ms. Blunt, demonstrate they undertook this project as a family, supportive of each other’s considerable abilities. This mutual support became a solid foundation for a movie that has helped to redefine the genre. Lee and Evelyn have three children, are facing unimaginably horrendous circumstances yet remain deeply in love. This extends to their children prompting them to do everything possible to give their children as much of a normal childhood as feasible. They reside in a bunker, lit by candles and kerosene lamps. Every aspect of their surroundings has been cleverly redesigned and modified to reduce ambient sound to silence. They walk in bare feet and communicate through American Sign Language. This avoids being a plot contrivance with Regan’s deafness. By affording a natural reason for the entire family knowing that form of communication a potential plot hole or inconsistency. The soundproofing extended to replacing the metal and plastic pieces in a Monopoly game with bits of colored cloth.
The primary dramatic point occurs when the family is returning from scavenging for necessity in a deserted town. The youngest, Beau, fond a toy space shuttle but since it made sounds, his father took it away, removing the batteries. Seeing the disappointment in her brother, Reagan covertly gives the toy back. Unseen by everyone, Beau scoops up the batteries before leaving. On the silent trek back home, Beau stops to play with the toy. Having replaced the batteries, it emits loud noises. The consequences needed only a few frames of film as a creature appears out of nowhere, a creature zooms in taking the hapless child leaving only a puddle of blood. Reagan blamed herself, and although grieved, the parents continue to be loving and supportive to both remaining children. An important aspect of a psychological thriller is to establish various necessary plot points required to drive the narrative to a satisfying dénouement. An example of the expertise found here is Lee’s determination to build Reagan a hearing aid. his workbench in the basement is festooned with bits and pieces of devices used in his work. This tiny device, presented almost casually, becomes the most crucial part of the story, cascading directly into the conclusion.
The film is constructed of a string of moments, ranging from relatively mundane activities such as laundry or homeschooling to those predicted by the surrounding terror. Lee takes Marcus outside for a father-son teaching moment. He takes him to a nearby waterfall demonstrating how it masks them from the monsters. To the shock of the boy, his father shouts at the top oh is lings. The creatures target the loudest sound; the waterfall masked the creams. These two plot points, the hearing aid, and masking sound, synergistically lead to a resounding last act. The tension reached a fevered pitch when Evelyn goes into labor. This is preceded by a moment so routine and relatable; she steps on an exposed nail in her bare feet. Having to suppress the pangs of labor takes a monumental effort, made worse by being alone in the home. They had been prepared, the farm property was strung with decorative lights, after hitting a switch, they all turn red alerting Lee that a creature is in the house. What follows is mesmerizing and must be experienced free of spoilers. This will certainly become a classic film of its genre.