Thursday, 3 May 2018

A Quiet Place (2018) - Movie Review

The plot: Humanity is on the brink of extinction. An alien species has landed that will attack at the slightest sound, forcing the survivors like Lee (John Krasinski), his wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and their children Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward) to be live a literal quiet existence or else they will be killed. As they try to lead as normal a life as one can have in this situation and prepare for the arrival of their next child, the creatures lay in wait for them to make even the smallest of mistakes... and snatch their prey.
Would it be too cliché to call Krasinski the strong silent type? I mean, think of that kind of character and Krasinski’s performance is what will spring to my mind from this point onward: The confident, caring and resilient father who wants to best prepare his family and his children in particular for a world that forces them to stay silent. Ditto for Blunt, who not only mirrors that emphasis on parental defence but also makes for an even stronger presence on-screen. Like… the birthing scene. Just the thought of having to go through that experience without uttering a sound is daunting enough, but Blunt’s performance in the moment only makes it even more unsettling. Cade Woodward as their youngest son serves as the centrepiece for the film’s haunting cold open, and he gets across just the right amount of that childish innocence to set a healthy precedent for why the film to follow should be as terrifying as it is.

Jupe as the oldest son definitely gets across the blind panic of the more electrified setpieces, but quite frankly, he can’t hold a candle to Simmonds as his sister. Not only was it a good move on Krasinski’s part to cast an actual deaf actress in the role of a deaf person (sounds like common bleeding sense, but welcome to the land of passing that is Hollywood), she has been given the most character depth of anyone in the cast, something that she pulls off superbly well. She’s great as a part of the family unit, a sufferer of survivor’s guilt in light of the film’s opening, and as a person without hearing in a scenario where the difference between life and death comes to being able to detect even the smallest of sounds one is making. All that internal turmoil, all that heartbreak, all that fear of one’s mortality is channelled amazingly well through this performance, and I can only hope that this film’s welcoming reception so far will lead to further things for this up-and-coming talent.

John Krasinski is the latest filmmaker looking to make his mark in the realm of horror cinema, now that the genre itself has gone through a major re-examination as far as its worth and its bankability. Going just by the technical details on show here, it seems like he has brought all the right pieces together to craft the story he wanted to tell. DOP Charlotte Bruus Christensen, who also did the camera work on the excellent Molly’s Game, gets a lot of use out of the stillness of the landscape, emphasising the open space to show how horrifyingly desolate the world has become.
But more so than how it looks, it’s the sound of this film that will make or break the entire production. Thankfully, sound editors Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van Der Ryn not only place the right significance behind every single sound we hear as a means of providing chills, they also present the low-key joys when the characters actually can make noise. Add to that the soundtrack by horror veteran Marco Beltrami, which plinks and plonks at just the right moments to heighten the atmosphere without detracting from it due to the inclusion of sheer volume. And indeed, atmosphere is where this film shines. It’s the kind of deafening quiet that you can actually feel seep out of the screen and into the audience; that need for silence bleeds out and, at the screening I attended, the initial crinkling of food wrappers and even breathing died down before too long. That’s impressive all on its own: How difficult is it to actually get a quiet audience for a movie these days?

Considering Krasinski cast himself and his IRL wife Emily Blunt as the heads of the central family, it’s little wonder that this film emphasises the role of caregivers as much as it does. Even in the wake of a world-shattering incident like the arrival of the newspaper-named 'Angels' (which are designed decently, but the CGI work to bring them to life could have been better), Lee and Evelyn still make it a point to educate their children, both in priorities in the old world (traditional schooling) and the priorities of this new world (marking out paths for the family to walk on so as to create the least sound). For parents that have gone to such great lengths to protect themselves from the Angels, showing a remarkable amount of time and effort went into the mechanics of the film’s main concept, it makes sense that they would want to pass that same ingenuity onto their young.
Alongside with the passing on of knowledge and skills, this film does startlingly well at showing just how much strength lies within these parents. The caregivers, the guardians, the ones who would do anything to preserve the lives of their family. I draw attention once again to the birthing scene, where we are presented with the rawest and more powerful form of the matriarch: A woman who is put into one of the most impossible of situations, keeping quiet during one of the most painful experiences a human being can naturally go through, and brings new life into the world while explicitly risking her own. Now that is power.

And then there’s the bare bones of the plot: Make too much noise, and you will be disposed of. While I can easily make connections between this and other sonically-inclined horror fare like Don’t Breathe (a film that Krasinski himself marked down as part of his research for making this film), I also can’t help but see a bit of environmentalism poking out through the cracks. In a few scenes, Lee imparts on his son that it is okay to make noise… so long as there is a slightly-louder noise nearby, usually created by something natural like a babbling brook or a waterfall. Since noise in this film is inexorably tied into regular kinetic activity, the idea that you can only make as much noise/activity as that found in nature? Yep, that seems to click right into place.

Not that I think this was Krasinski’s main intention though, as alongside Don’t Breathe, one of his other main sources of inspiration was Get Out. That seemed a bit strange when first reading up on it, until I actually stopped and thought that over. The sensation of wanting or even needing to say something, but knowing that doing so will put one’s own life at risk… sounds remarkably similar to the Sunken Place, and the effect is ultimately the same. The idea that silence is what keeps people in fear, as trying to combat it is seen as a thankless task. Knowing how much trying to directly silence opponents plays into a lot of political discourse in the age of social media, I can definitely see where the political undertones here lead to. It is because of this that the film’s conclusion, one that shows a means of wielding sound in much the same way that the Angels do, makes as earth-shattering an impact as it does.

All in all, while I can definitely see where its influences have sewn themselves into the film’s patchwork, this still marks an impressively unique offering that helps further the Horror Renaissance we appear to be in the middle of. The acting is very good, particularly from Millicent Simmonds who manages to outmatch even the seasoned veterans in this cast, the attention to visuals and sound design is quite commendable and even manage to improve on recent sound-as-horror productions, and the writing manages to wring a lot of potential subtext out of its sparse surroundings, resulting in an audio-visual experience of a film that is sure to inspire a lot of post-film musings about the true meaning behind it all. In short, it’s precisely the kind of film I like to see, especially when it’s garnering this much positive attention.

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