A Quiet Place (2018)
Dir: John Krasinski
A perfect example of crafting tension, John Krasinski has made an instant name for himself as a director, using sound and the palpable lack of it to great effect as it’s paired perfectly with a touching and personal story.
In the aftermath of a widespread and devastating invasion, a family (parented by John Krasinski ‘The Office’ and Emily Blunt ‘The Devil Wears Prada’) struggles to silently survive, facing situations that threaten to attract the sound-sensitive monsters that have taken over Earth.
First of all, I have to say how much I love my local independent cinemas and the nearby Arts Centre cinema, in particular, is a truly wonderful place to see films. As the audience assembled outside the doors of the single screen, the usher came out and addressed us all, politely but firmly, specifically highlighting how important the sound is to the film and that any unnecessary noises in the cinema would ruin the experience. He named and shamed crisps (potato chips) in particular as the worst offender, without specifically embarrassing the group of teen girls who had a large bag of snacks in hand. This warning was thankfully effective and resulted in a very considerate audience, helping the film to be at it’s most effective, even for those girls who put their snacks down and didn’t touch the bag for the duration of the film.
This is exactly the kind of tense film that I really enjoy but that I find sadly far too rare. As a masterclass in brilliantly effective direction, it really couldn’t be much better, absolutely nothing feels wasted, including every minute of the 90min running time. It’s a perfect demonstration of ‘show don’t tell’ the story, with just a few shortcuts taken with shots highlighting newspaper headlines that convey a few details more effectively than some perilous exposition.
Introducing us to the family nearly three months after the invasion, the film doesn’t waste time telling us too much about how the invasion happened, so many other films have gone down that route, this film’s focus is on how these particular survivors are coping. In that way, it is a little bit like the excellent ‘Monsters’. The apocalyptic invasion is no longer interesting to movie-goers, but a telling a personal story from the aftermath of one, especially when the threat is still so present, can be fascinating.
When I think of John Krasinski, what first comes to mind is how much I loved him in the American version of ‘The Office’, his character was one of the best things about it. So honestly for a while, it was a little hard for me to think of him as more than a comedic actor, yet here he is as both a dramatic lead and director, doing amazing things in both roles. With the big survivalist beard and an entirely different demeanor, Jim Halpert is all but forgotten, focusing only on Lee Abbott, this resourceful father who is determined to protect his family.
Having Krasinski’s IRL wife Emily Blunt starring alongside him is one of the key masterstrokes that make the film so effective. In the film as in interviews, their affection and chemistry is abundantly evident, often very endearing. That casting defintely opened up a very easy route to market this movie as talk shows were clamoring to get the two of them on together to talk about it, and those appearances really helped to raise the profile of a movie that otherwise might have gone largely unnoticed by a mainstream audience. Maybe also disarming many who wouldn’t usually go to see anything so scary, reassured by the couple’s humour and warmth to give it a try. It certainly led to the film taking over $340m worldwide, one of the biggest profit margins of the year by far. That’s not what makes this the standout ‘horror’ of the year though, but the way it’s less horrific and more an expert lesson in cinematic tension that makes it memorable.
While there’s hardly any dialogue, the film makes use of quite a bit of American sign language. I love how this turns the daughter’s disability into a strength, it’s their ability to communicate silently that has undoubtedly helped them survive so long. Some of this has to be subtitled, apparently a decision that wasn’t initially planned but later reached as it was important the audience got the full details of the family’s communication rather than just the gist from context. There are conversations, even arguments conducted through sign, as well as some very touching moments where you literally can’t talke your eyes off the screen.
Creature design too is excellent, made by ILM and a little bit Xenomorph, they’re seen sparingly but are quite effective. While not the best effects I’ve ever seen, as the focus isn’t really on the creatures and as they’re not featured heavily I felt that what’s shown is more than effective enough in context. One of the best things about this film is that it doesn’t focus on the ‘invasion’ as it were, it invites us to follow this one family, makes us a guest in their lives as we see how they are coping with their radically changed circumstances.
I can’t write this review without mentioning the sound, and the way this film uses silence, not as a gimmick or twist, but as a key point. As mentioned earlier, we were told at my cinema not to eat crisps (potato chips) and they don’t sell popcorn there, which was precisely why I waited a few extra weeks for them to screen the film there rather than go to the other cinemas in my area that are noisier and maybe wouldn’t take the time or decision to tell the audience to be extra quiet. In fact, the projectionist/usher at one point brought a glass of iced water to a lady a few rows back who had a bad cough and was trying her very best to suppress it.
Casting is excellent, it needs to be with such a small cast, but it really works and didn’t at all feel like it was just the ‘easy’ option to have Krasinski and Blunt take the leads. We all know Emily Blunt is always fantastic so there’s no surprise that she is yet again. John Krasinski, however, was a bit of a revelation as I’d seen him in very little other than ‘The Office’, so having him in a leading dramatic role and absolutely smash it is brilliant to see. The child performances are also of the highest standard, they couldn’t be further from the annoying or sub-par performances that are often picked out as spoiling films. The son is played by Noah Jupe, who I knew was going to be good, I liked him in ‘Wonder’ (you can check out my review of that film to see that I thought he was excellent in that film) and he impressed me again here.
Taking much of the spotlight, the family’s daughter Regan is fantastic, played by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds, and while her deafness is not something that should be her defining feature, in the context of her being in this film it needs to be pointed out that a deaf actress was cast rather than just someone playing the role. Much of the affection and emotion is conveyed completely wordlessly and Simmonds was very actively involved in helping the rest of the cast with their signing and a few changes to what’s said, one of which is a pivotal line.
A sequel is apparently being developed, not a huge surprise given the $340m box office return on an approximately $20m budget. I feel like ‘Another Quiet Place’ would be a cleverer title than ‘A Quiet Place 2’. While Krasinski has said it won’t be a direct sequel, I don’t easily see how another film can be made that uses all the same strengths of this one, without feeling like it’s just doing the same thing over again. If there is a way, I’ll be really pleased to see it, but right now I don’t see how it will be quite as good using the same techniques a second time.
This is a film that I heartily recommend for those wanting something brilliantly tense yet not overly gruesome or gory. It’ll have you on the edge of your seat as you watch it, talking and thinking about it afterward, but thankfully not keep you awake at night. It worked so well in the cinema environment and I’m looking forward to watching it with friends at home soon to see just how well it works at home.
There was a time I would’ve been very dubious that a film like this could garner the awards buzz it deserves, especially at the Academy Awards. However, I have a strong feeling ‘Get Out’ may have been a turning point in the way films like this are perceived. This deserves to get some attention at the awards in the coming months, I really hope it will, yet the sole Golden Globe nomination for Best Score is a very modest beginning and doesn’t bode particularly well for bigger nominations down the line, though I still hope one of the Academy’s ten Best Picture spaces could be taken by this.