You might call me jaded, but I am pretty disappointed by the state of horror movies. It’s not just the last few years. The truth is I haven’t seen 10 really good horror movies in over a decade. Now that I’ve had a chance to see A Quiet Place, that number isn’t going up. A Quiet Place is not a really good horror movie. It ends up making a lot of the same mistakes that filmmakers think define a horror film in the modern age. It relies too heavily on jump scares and characters who do some of the most idiotic things, thus placing them in a somewhat self-created dangerous situation. But I will make the argument that A Quiet Place is still a pretty good horror film because of a rather clever and unique concept and a filming process that allows us care for these characters more than the usual horror film red shirt fodder that too often leaves me rooting for the monster in a Darwin-like weed-out-the-gene-pool kind of way.
The film takes place in a near-future that newspapers place at about 2020. It’s now day 86. We are now in the familiar post-apocalyptic world of deserted streets and a family of characters scrounging through the derelict buildings for scraps on which to survive. The difference here is that this family, a husband and wife with three young kids, are going out of their way to remain as completely silent as possible. They communicate strictly through sign language and walk on bare feet to avoid the sounds of footsteps. Each move is carefully calculated to avoid even the careless sound of placing a pill container on a counter. Silence is golden, and before the title card is revealed, we discover the reason for all of this care. The Earth has been invaded by creatures that are blind but with heightened hearing ability. They hunt strictly by sound and move at lightning speed toward any sound and attack with razor-like appendages. These attacks are over in a second, and the viewer is left with graphic evidence that in this future world, silence isn’t golden, it’s survival.
We jump a year into the future, and we again join the scrounging family, but this time at home. They’ve managed to survive by making adjustments to their surroundings. They lay large paths of sand to make walking quieter. They have tried to soundproof their home but still take no chances. They still communicate silently, and we get a good idea of a typical day in their lives. Of course, here’s where some of the stupid people come in. Mother Evelyn (Blunt) is now pregnant. Already I’m a bit distracted because I can’t help wondering to myself how they plan on having a silent baby. Yeah, there’s the whole repopulate-the-planet kind of instinct, but this just seems like a bad idea. Of course, we see the plans they’ve made to deal with all of this, but I’m sure I wasn’t alone in the theatre in continuing to believe this was a really bad idea, and guess what? No spoiler alert here. It was a really bad idea, and we’re suddenly in the hyper-horror portion of our film where things begin to happen more quickly and slightly less silently.
Emily Blunt plays the mother, and John Krasinski plays the father who is doing what he can to teach his son (Jupe) how to protect and care for the family while he tries to design an effective hearing aid for his daughter (Abbott) who feels responsible for the film’s opening tragedy. There’s some nice natural chemistry here that owes a lot, I’m sure, to the fact that Blunt and Krasinski are married in the real world. He is also the film’s director, and it is in these middle-of-the-film moments where A Quiet Place distinguishes itself from most of the horror films I’ve seen lately. Obviously, this is a nearly silent film at times. Krasinski doesn’t attempt to fill the silence with a huge score. He smartly allows the silence to exist with only minimal moments of music. It is that very silence that allows us to become more intimate with these characters. You almost feel like a part of this family, because you have to pay close attention and are not distracted by some of the trappings of watching a film. The result is that no matter how stupid some of their actions might be, you will find yourselves caring about these characters to a greater extent than you might be used to. Those intimate quiet moments brought me close enough to be sucked in completely when the frantic peril finally kicks in. This is where the movie is more effective than most of the crap being projected on our Cineplex screens these days.
The creature design is pretty cool. They look like a cross between something H.R. Giger might have developed crossed with the bugs from Starship Troopers. It’s an engaging design, and Krasinski does a reasonable job of not revealing too much too quickly. Throw in some creepy atmosphere and a sweet sound design, and the next thing you know, you end up with a pretty good horror movie even with the annoying modern mistakes. There are even a few subtle moments that demand you actually pay attention to this one. I’m not going to spoil your hunt in these pages. So that means you’ll need to “Stay silent. Stay alive”.