SPOILER ALERT: While I do not discuss the ending, I will highlight something which happens in the pre-title sequence. It’s an event which drives the rest of the film; discussing it, though, ruins the intended shock. This paragraph will be marked accordingly.
A Quiet Place hits on so many different levels, it’s hard to know where to start. How do I begin my review? Do I start with the technical, which leads to the emotional, or do I just go from my gut and tell you what’s on my mind? Do I come at it as a father and husband, or a film reviewer? Films which make me think like this are often the ones which have made me think about it nonstop since viewing it; it’s been three days since, and I’m still wondering what to say.
It’s a film which relies solely on its visuals, as its conceit requires it; boy howdy, what a marvelous, daring conceit it is. Newspaper headlines in long-abandoned vending boxes trumpet “IT’S SOUND,” giving us a hint as to why the film opens on a family creeping barefoot around a deserted small-town drugstore. Gathering supplies, food, medicine for a sick child, and other sundries, no one speaks or endeavors to make any kind of noise. An object falling from a shelf is caught frantically, coughs are muffled, and footsteps are carefully taken.
The Abbotts – father Lee (John Krasinski), mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt), eldest Regan (Millicent Simmonds), middle child Marcus (Noah Jupe), and youngest Beau (Cade Woodward) – all seem to know exactly what they’re doing. No one is foolish enough to wear shoes. Sand trails muffle the sounds of their footsteps. Paint stripes mark the best non-creaky places to tread on wooden floors and stairs in their house. Finally, all of them are fluent in American Sign Language, which is how most of this film’s dialogue is delivered (there are subtitles).
The aforementioned newspaper hint is made into a terrifying, full-on declaration as we find out exactly what’s going on; the more sound someone makes, the bigger the chances are of them being utterly annihilated by large, fast-moving, alien creatures. And when I say “annihilated,” I’m not talking about being vaporized by lasers. I’m talking about these creatures rushing up out of nowhere to turn the offender into a bloody, unrecognizable mess, and we see a horrifying example of it very early in the film.
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On their way out of the drugstore, Lee takes the batteries out of a toy Beau wants and puts it all on the counter, denying it to him because it makes sound. Behind Lee’s back, Regan retrieves the toy for him; out of sight from the others, he picks up the batteries. Going home, he turns the toy on and merely holds it up, its klaxon-like alarm ringing loudly throughout the wooded area, calling the monsters to him.
Why would he do a thing like that, and why did he do it the way he did it? Was he just being a boy, entranced by the noise of a toy he’s probably never had in his entire life? Was he trying to get the whole family killed so they wouldn’t have to be alone and silent anymore? Or – worse – was he, at what must have been only 5 years old, tired of living a life like this and committing suicide? This scene alone is the most terrifying in the film, making the rest of the film and its jump scares pale in comparison.
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The implications of this act and the way it’s portrayed give this film a despairing tone, the likes of which I’ve seldom seen. Up until this point, there was a cat-and-mouse – even kind of strangely suspenseful fun – feel, as we see the Abbotts going through what must be their “new normal.” After, the mood entirely changes with the exposition of the danger they face every day. Even though the Abbott family is shown to be a loving, caring family under a pall of constant fear, there’s no escaping how this pre-title event colors the way we see the characters and how the characters see each other.
A Quiet Place is an absolutely gorgeous nerve-wracker of a film. It puts us through the paces of a survival horror film while still carving out time to be a meditation about familial loss and grief, as we are shown the toll this loss has taken on them. Lee and Evelyn, no matter how well-prepared they are, are struggling to keep their family safe, and they can see the control slipping gradually out of their hands. Krasinski (also credited as director and co-writer) emotes a pathos which competes only with his driven dedication to protecting his family, while Blunt’s sadness is tempered by love and a subtle sense of humor, when she isn’t constantly looking out for her kids.
It’s hard not to feel for both of them as they try to guard their kids against the empty world and the monsters, both of which are thinly-veiled metaphors for the real world. We’ve pushed ourselves so far into our own lives that the rest of the world may not as well exist; and those that are actually out there are just waiting to hear the wrong thing before they snap our heads off. What Lee and Evelyn are trying so desperately to do is to keep their kids on the straight and narrow – picture the sand paths they take to and from their house – without inciting some kind of retribution for their mere existence. And when they finally find the courage to express themselves… watch out.
Regan’s sadness seems to be driven by guilt over the pre-title event; more than that, she feels her father holds her responsible and doesn’t love her anymore. And Marcus is left holding the bag for both sides, hoping somehow or another someone will help him carry the weight. Simmonds (a deaf actor who also helped the other actors with their ASL) and Jupe bear a magical war-torn innocence, growing up with death surrounding them but still attempting to be kids. Never straying into caricature or inexperienced exaggeration, they lend their roles a brilliant seriousness and weight which makes us believe in both of them.
Krasinski gives A Quiet Place an unmatched tenor and tone, fully immersing us in this desolate world through not just the actors and script, but the cinematography, editing, and sound design. These factors become characters themselves alongside the ones played by the actors. Our feet practically drum on the theater floor, running alongside the Abbotts as they make their escape from the monsters; collective gasps will be heard when the slightest noise – or the mere anticipation of a noise – comes ringing through on the sound track. By making the film almost entirely reliant on visuals and nonverbal sound, we’re given a completely involving film which doesn’t fail to totally ensnare us in its grasp.