Horror will save film. It’s not on its deathbed, but it certainly has been needing a kick in the ass to reinvigorate the passion among audiences and creators. The Academy Awards are stale affairs that play it as safe as the movies that garner the label Oscar Bait. Marvel and Disney are dictating the social appetite of action and drama.
Just last year saw the greatest culmination and finely hewn execution of horror aspirations. Get Out introduced a new context for the greater, non-academic world to discuss racism; It is one of the sharpest observations on growing up and growing into a harsh world; and Raw completely overhauled the innate terror of becoming a teenager. (Also, Verónica was just good as hell.)
The latest in this charge is A Quiet Place. Directed and co-written by John Krasinski, it tells the story of a family attempting to survive in a near future where the planet has been overtaken by creatures (possibly of extraterrestrial origin) that make up for their lack of sight with a tremendous sense of hearing. Also, a horrific thirst for blood and an existence ostensibly impossible to end. The survival strategy? Absolute, painstaking, deafening silence.
And as scary as it is, this is a movie that tends to play out more like a thriller or drama than traditional horror. It does an overwhelming number of smart things that seem painfully obvious upon viewing but also impossible to keep a handle on in the moment. Much like how Mother gutted it of a soundtrack and used foley to gin up rhythm, A Quiet Place replaces dialogue with sound.
Creaks in the floorboard become questions. The light slaps of fervent signing turn into roaring accusations. The reverberating thud of an accident—a betrayal. There are few spoken lines and just a handful more subtitles yet there are scenes that are minutes and minutes of tense, taut, riveting exchanges. It puts sound, a traditionally background element outside of war movies, into the foreground and lets it take over your brain.
It immerses you into this space so wonderfully. For example, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), the daughter of Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and Lee (Krasinski), is deaf. And while her disability plays heavily into the plot of the movie as Lee tirelessly attempts to build her hearing aid after hearing aid, it also turns into a tool for the filmmakers to draw you in deeper. You experience a different kind of silence as we slip in and out of her perspective, one that plays into some visual tricks that put you into a heightened state of visual perception. These bits actually alter the way you watch the proceedings.
By building atop superb worldbuilding, there is so little of this movie that doesn’t feel part of the cohesive whole. Small considerations make the saga taste of a certain veracity, like sand-laden paths to mute footsteps and specially rigged alert systems. Some of it, unfortunately, ends up really on the nose (a newspaper early on just smacks you in the face with a headline that reads IT’S SOUND, as if we couldn’t tell), but it’s usually subtle enough to come across as effective as the best environmental storytelling video games have to offer. (Admittedly, some of the complications are a bit contrived, but at least it’s with purpose.)
A lot of it comes down to being smart enough to deliver payoff on nearly everything that is set up. Callbacks are easy (just look at any arena rock comedian) but it’s hard to make them unexpected and rewarding and thoughtful all at once. A rare happy scene finds its narrative reflection later on in an absolute tragedy with perfectly mirrored beats. The opening scene establishes the stakes with brutal efficiency.
And a tense question of will and will not results in the single most pulse-pounding and satisfying moment in any movie of the past few years. (Hell, it makes me smile harder than the shotgun cock of 2016’s Doom pitch-perfect opener.) It’s all quite difficult to talk about without spoiling anything, but it is a call and response set up from the beginning and comes full circle by the end. And it does so by telling an intimate story of family through the familiar shade of teenage angst.
It’s natural forces clashing against each other. The perspective of children, especially two who have known the world prior to its fall, shift and rub up against the guiding hand of their parents. The absolute necessity of their compliance perfectly complements the apocalypse. There’s no statement being made about their growth and upbringing and the parents’ tender love being outmatched by a stern march for survival, but it’s a keen observation on them nonetheless.
A Quiet Place is, however, absolutely terrifying. You will be breathless and you will feel the burn of dry, unblinking eyes. But like the best horror, it puts something everyday and repurposes it with a more visceral terror. And like the best, it is smart about it. It is efficient about it. And it is good about it. This is one you’re going to want to see.
Final Score: 9 out of 10