It’s funny how quickly the landscape can change. A little over a year ago, the idea that scary movies could be taken seriously by audiences and critics seemed laughable. Then Jordan Peele released his massively successful horror thriller “Get Out,” to rave reviews, massive box-office success and several major awards. For the first time in forever, the B-movie felt like it was getting the A-list treatment. Then Guillermo del Toro puts out a movie about a lady fucking a fish and wins Best Picture. Suddenly, the movies that had always existed in serious cinema’s periphery were front and center. Strange days, my friend. Strange days.
I suppose there’s an up side to all this silliness: We’re getting some unconventional films from unconventional voices and some of them are turning out to be pretty interesting. Take the new horror-thriller “A Quiet Place,” directed by and starring John Krasinski (Jim from America’s “The Office”). It’s a tension filled scare-fest with a great hook and some solid staging—the kind of tightly constructed B-movie I love. Every so often, it flirts with becoming goofy and hard to take seriously, but manages to settle before things get out of hand.
It’s the near future and the world has been overrun and decimated by monsters that respond to sound. As long as citizens are quiet, they’re safe. But if they make a noise, they are going to get their ass torn to shreds faster than you can say “clever premise.” Lee (Krasinski) and his wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt) have managed to keep their family alive by staying one silent step ahead of these ghastly audiophiles. A huge chunk of the movie features no spoken dialogue. The family communicates using sign language. There are a lot of scenes involving the “shhhhh” gesture: putting a finger over to the lips to tell someone to shut the hell up. At first, this gesture seems perfectly sensible in a world where making a sound will get you killed. However, 90 minutes into the movie, the characters are still using the gesture every time they hear something stirring in the shadows.
There’s an epic drinking game that could be crafted from this movie. Every time a character does “shhhhh,” take a drink. Audiences will be tipsy by the end of act one, drunk as hell by the end of act two and hospitalized for alcohol poisoning by the time the credits roll.
“A Quiet Place” is a very simple movie. It’s economical and effective in how it presents the story and does a great job of placing the audeince in the world the characters live in. Their existence is fraught with hardships and every day is difficult.
I can’t remember a fictional world that felt so oppressive. As a director, Krasinski has done a masterful job bringing dread and perpetual tension to the film. “A Quiet Place” is a master class in tension but also an achievement in world building. Some may think the point of the movie is “kids totally suck,” for the sheer number of times one of their children nearly gets themselves or another member of the family killed. And there are scenes where characters have made such irresponsible choices we have to wonder if they’re too stupid to live. The answer: maybe.
All joking aside, it is a great scary movie. The concept is interesting, and while almost driven into the ground, it manages to escape unscathed. Krasinski was smart enough to understand a movie like this benefits from brevity. At 90 minutes, it feels almost perfect in length. I wish more filmmakers understood less is more, and movies that live or die by a premise are better served by telling the story in a serviceable amount of time. Because the more an audience thinks about this crazy, hellish existence, the more they will start to wonder why the family didn’t make more intelligent choices.
For example, there’s a scene where Lee explains you can talk softly around a river because the loud sound of flowing water obscures the creatures’ abilities to detect a person. So, why not move to a cabin on the river? Or set up a campsite near the conveniently placed waterfall? Fortunately, the movie pushes forward at a pace that doesn’t allow folks to dwell.
“A Quiet Place” is a quality piece of filmmaking—easily the best movie I’ve seen so far this year.
A Quiet Place