Horror has always been an interesting genre. Navigating the depths of what really scares us is usually tricky and sometimes treacherous. Scares are almost always visceral reactions, but fear is something cultivated in the recesses of our minds, not knee jerk reactions to quick surprises. A rift has separated the genre into two trains of thought. There are the films that aim to be “scary”, either by looking creepy or loading the movie with jump scares (or both), which are made with audience reactions in mind. Then there are those that take it a beyond the screen and haunt us long after we leave the theater (or couch). A Quiet Place managed to find a really nice sweet spot between those two ideologies and delivered a thrilling “horror” movie that isn’t overtly scary, but is consistently suspenseful from start to finish.
John Krasinski is really coming into his own as a filmmaker and storyteller. For only his third project, he showed a lot by moving away from comedy and taking on a project that wasn’t easy to make successful. The movie’s whopping $50-million opening weekend, including a $4-million Thursday, is a testament to not just the quality of his work, but a very smart ad campaign as well. The trailer was meticulously crafted to accurately showcase all the best qualities of the film without giving anything away…a very minimalist approach. The idea is pretty straight forward so it doesn’t need much dressing up and the script doesn’t have much in the way of spoken dialogue, so Krasinski was wise to focus heavily on the use of sign language and nonverbal communication as key plot elements that served to engage the audience’s focus on a deeper level.
His greatest accomplishment as a filmmaker in this instance, was to craft a powerful emotional tone that binds all the other elements together. This is a story about family more than anything else and Krasinski made sure to give that its proper respect and attention. It isn’t something typical of the horror/thriller genre, but it worked well here and even got me a little choked up at one point. There are some post-apocalyptic cliches that made their way into the final cut and some plot points that didn’t add up during key moments, but those things didn’t detract from the enjoyability. The premise alone is pretty interesting but without proper attention to detail, this movie could have easily wound up as a bust.
Bryan Woods and Scott Beck came up with the story and helped write the screenplay, but this was far from a sure thing. The pair had worked together previously on several underwhelming thrillers, so it was a smart move to have Krasinski working on the script as well. As I mentioned before, there is limited spoken dialogue but the characters use sign language to address one another and they actually have some heavy conversations despite the limitations. They deserve a lot of credit for having the audacity to tackle some real family issues without the benefit of speaking. I would have really liked to see them dive deeper into those interpersonal relationships, but that would have required a lot more time. That narrative choice required a lot of physical acting from the cast, but it certainly lent authenticity to the film as a whole. Limiting how much the characters speak to each other made it more rewarding when they actually did talk and kept the audience present in this other reality. In a world where predatory creatures hunt humans via sound, the nature of noise and the role it plays in our daily lives was going to play a critical role.
The team in the sound department did an exceptional job, both designing and amplifying everything everything you hear. It’s the essential element of experiencing this film. Not to take away from a strong emotional core that connects the characters, but the sound design gave their experience the credibility it needs to succeed. By doing so, you gained a respect for their way of life and learned to be fearful of making any noise…just as much as they were. It’s actually quite a clever approach to constructing their world and it certainly paid off in the final product. Marco Beltrami’s original music was well crafted for this movie as well. It heightened the right moments and softened others, playing an integral part of the emotional timbre where the lack of traditional dialogue moments may fill in the blanks. A good original score is never a detriment, and in this case it helped to bolster the performances.
The script was going to need some strong portrayals from the cast to bring it all together. While the former star of The Office played an important role as the family patriarch and was very strong in his own right, Krasinski knows where his bread is buttered. He was smart to put the most demanding elements of the screenplay in the hands of his capable wife. Emily Blunt truly had the majority of the heavy lifting and she did a wonderful job under the pressure. Playing a woman who’s eight months pregnant in that environment required her to be convincingly nurturing and distraught given the occasion. There are several scenes where it’s just her and the camera and she carried the movie with just facial expressions and body language. I don’t want to give it away, but she displayed a remarkable versatility which was highlighted by several colliding fears. Hers is certainly at the top when it comes to best performances of the year so far. It’s a far cry from her role as the new Mary Poppins, but I think it was some of her finest work and his as well.
We also got some really good performances from the Millicent Simmons and Noah Jupe who played the two kids. The cast for this movie is really small, so these two had to deliver and they did. The typical gender roles are inverted too, with Simmons taking on a big brother type role as the family’s oldest girl. Jupe played scared pretty well, but his character wasn’t as flushed out was generally less important to the plot than his sister. She has a really big screen presence and a strong personality that was dominant at times, maybe due to her unique look, but her character was the heart and soul. She was very emotional, carrying a lot of bag for a young girl, but it gave her much more depth and richness as a member of this family. I expect that both of these young actors will get a bunch of offers after navigating such a tricky world.
Jeffrey Beercroft’s production design and Heather Loeffler’s set design breathed a lot of life and character into this project. It’s only an hour and a half, so conveying a fair amount of information about the plot was important. Thanks to these two, we learn a lot about the current state of the world and the lives of the characters we are watching. It was a very stripped down, simple life in the face of a world that has collapsed at the hands of these creatures. Bringing all those elements to life on screen was Charlotte Bruus Christensen. She had worked with Blunt before on Girl on the Train and recently done the cinematography for Academy Award nominated films Fences and Molly’s Game. Christensen showed off a good eye with some fantastic wide, establishing shots of the landscape which crafted a lot of silent backstory. She still utilized really good close-ups that captured critical moments in the script.
When I first saw the trailers for this film, the concept and the cast is what sold me. I had faith. However, I’ve been disappointed repeatedly by contemporary horror cinema so I wasn’t getting my hopes up. As a complete work, this is one of the better films so far this year. I’ve seen it twice and really enjoyed it both times. While it may fall within the horror genre based on a couple of elements, the psychological and emotional strengths of the film are definitely what gets it across. That is what has resonated with audiences, not the monsters. Every now and then, people deserve to have their faith rewarded.
Recommendation: If you weren’t among the first wave of people who saw this movie on opening weekend, go check it out. Word of mouth has probably reached you by now. For a horror movie, it’s not incredibly violent or graphic, but it’s still heavy. Maybe not the first choice for a family outing, but not entirely off the table.