A Quiet Place (2016, Dir. John Krasinski) is a film I went to see. By seeing it, by hearing it, I experienced it. I used all my senses in that cinema, the smell of popcorn, the taste of coke, the feeling of the leather seat pressed into my back. Film might be a primarily audiovisual medium, but your other senses don’t stop working once you sit down to watch a film. Sensory experience never stops, unless it’s absent. A Quiet Place is dependent on that absence, it’s a horror film which depends on silence. It’s world is dependent on being well…a quiet place.
At least the title is easy to understand.
The horror film is becoming a strange genre to understand in a world where live killings can be streamed over Facebook. In a world where all of the world’s real terror, misery and dread can be uploaded and downloaded within seconds, where is the space left for a horror movie? What is left to scare the populace when for example, total annihilation seems commonplace? Luckily, what Krasinski has going for him is quite possibly the oldest feeling humanity carries with it; fear. Fear of the unknown is as old as us, and it’s not hard to exploit that no matter what generation you live in.
So A Quiet Place. A horror film made for a generation which can still be scared, don’t let anyone else tell you different. But what does A Quiet Place find scary, what does it think scares us? If its playing on the oldest feelings we have, then A Quiet Place boils it down to the oldest scenarios mankind encounters. Pure, brutal survival against nature. Every element builds into that. Its monsters are unknown, dangerous and very ready to kill our protagonists. Our protagonists are an archaic image, the family. A rough protective father, a caring and earnest mother, kids who are either wholesome, rebellious or cowardly. It’s an image which could be ripped straight out of the bible, hell that’s the template for Noah (2012, Dir. Darren Aronofsky). If you can’t find its inspiration in their however, try looking for it in The Simpsons.
Where A Quiet Place decides to innovate is in the senses. If everything in its structure is old hat, then where it decides things need freshening up is its big concept. Everyone must be very, very quiet. If people talk, if they make noise or sound, the acoustic hunters who hunt by sound will come find you and kill you. So what to do? Well, stay silent. As a result the whole film unfolds in almost genuine silence for large portions of its running time. It’s an impressive commitment to make in an overly saturated overly stimulated film landscape. The films’ silence is not just a cool technical trick though. Besides being woven into the story, it’s also woven into the characters; Regan (Millicent Simmonds) being deaf provides the film with one of the true moments of genuinely deep sympathy, as the agony of her condition continues to eat away at her. Honestly the film shines in its ability to breathe life into so much quiet space.
But I’m not gonna mince words on this one, I don’t like it. It brings to the table an idea which intrigues, captures the imagination. And then as the story unfolds it starts to shrink and crawl backwards, each clichéd beat washing over you, the water getting more foul each time. Because what does this film have to say? What does it want to communicate? That taking care of your family is important? That taking care of your children is hard and you have to sacrifice yourself for them? There is nothing wrong with telling us this, but to be honest so what. If these are the oldest characters in the stories of humans, we already know this. Krasinski doesn’t exactly wrap these messages up in a way which reminds us of something we’ve forgotten, he’s just telling us something we already know but without finding a way to deliver it to help remind us why we know this, why it’s the right thing.
Beyond this central idea, this idea that in the scope of things what Krasinski is saying is ideas seen before and done better, a whole host of way more grounded criticisms come into play. It’s cinematography is boring, dull and looking like it was shot for TV (bad TV). It’s score is so stock horror music, shrieking violins and jump scare music. It’s monsters do look wild and are handled well however, so it is not all bad. However less can be said of its human participants, who are given so little “acting” to do because their characters are simply so threadbare. The story gives almost everyone beyond John Krasinski as the father nothing to do but hang around and wait for things to happen. It poorly overused its characters being in danger to the point you’re not really worried, and finally goddamnit its’ ending is bad. I won’t spoil it, but it builds and builds a theme which it ends up ignoring because guns.
Honestly I’m not here to disparage a film needlessly. A Quiet Place gets at me because somewhere in there, is a genuinely great horror film which could last the test of time. But it’s not the film I experienced in the cinema. There are many many reasons, including some ludicrous and bizarre narrative jumps, but most of all it’s not that scary and not that revolutionary. It’s a horror movie, but there’s no way it’s a horror classic. I’ll say no more and be quiet.
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