I’m not a horror guy. And not much of a thriller guy either. I cringe at the absurdity of poorly executed films of this sort, and dislike the unease created in good ones. Even worse, when done well, the horror/thriller genre makes me edgy, jittery and uncomfortable. I know this is by design, but I hate those feelings and generally seek to avoid them. And for me, the worst part comes in the emotion of hopelessness. These movies make me look at the bad parts of the world, and the mean and sick parts of humanity. So it’s axiomatic that intentionally seeking the dark parts of the human psyche destroy hope and create dread.
Before I began writing about film, John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place sat firmly in the category of “never watch alone.” Because it is well reviewed, this is a movie I might watch with my friend Mike Coda, a guy that somehow opens a window for me to a level of enjoyment — or at least appreciation — of the horror genre. Mike has a way of translating the hopelessness for me, perhaps with his infectious love of these movies. He smiles at the horror. Not in a creepy or sadistic way, but in a way that says man this is a good story … this isn’t real life, but the fantasy and the thrill somehow add to life, and allow us to face our deepest fears and worries. Somehow when I watch horror movies with Mike, I don’t feel so tense, and always have a good time. But I decided to go see this film alone. This film tortured me with the sounds of quiet. I was a big, big scaredy-cat. And I really regretted not calling Mike to go see this one with me.
We open in a post-apocalyptic near future. Alien creatures have decimated the Earth’s population, only a few survive, and their survival depends on collective silence. These dinosaur-like Alien/Predator invaders live in the realm of sound, with brilliantly frightening heads dedicated nearly exclusively to auditory perception and teeth. The Abbott family has an advantage because eldest child Regan (the awesome actress Millicent Simmonds) is deaf. They know sign language and can communicate without sound. They understand the world of silence.
A story told with almost no dialogue, A Quiet Place displays some pretty amazing filmmaking. I felt the frustration and solitude that silence creates. I also heard the world in a way we rarely do, even when taking a walk alone in the woods. The internal dialogue in my head fills in all the gaps when I am alone. This movie effectively translated the sound of the world, while removing my own head-space ramblings. Krasinski translates the stress of operating in life while making no sounds. They create paths of sand to dampen their footsteps. They tip-toe on hard surfaces. At one point the family searches a broken down pharmacy, looking for medication. Each bottle is moved carefully, one at a time. Picked up and placed back down. Everything takes three times as long. Every move of life, all day, every day, is spent this way.
Along the way mistakes happen, tragedy strikes, but the family perseveres. 424 days on, they seem to be doing okay. The family has survived by adapting their experience and by making a choice … they have chosen to live. They grow huge crops of food, eat dinner together, homeschool the kids and have game night.
But of course — it is a horror film — things eventually go bad. At about the two thirds point, Emily Blunt’s Evelyn implores her husband, Krasinski’s Lee, to protect their children and keep them safe. In other films this would be an overused trope, and maybe even a little role-specific sexism. But here it feels real and the circumstances dictate she has something else very important to do. She isn’t the helpless wife, but his partner, and she needs him to do his part so she can do hers. Modern families work together and support each other. And for a lot of us out here in the real world, family is why we get out of bed in the morning. In a hopeless world, how are we called to live beyond survival, and actually seek to thrive?
On the surface, A Quiet Place could be a stand-in for Alien or the Vin Diesel vehicle Pitch Black. Or perhaps an elevated version of M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. Creature feature horror. Was I scared? Take a look at my nails and you will see how scared. Did I jump? Literally out of my seat. Did I feel dis-ease? I’m still letting the cortisol flow out of me.
Do I wish my buddy Mike Coda was by my side? Oh yes I do — this film made me so damn tense and trust me I will think twice before going to another movie like this without him. I know he would have provided a calming, hopeful presence. But did I feel the hopelessness that often comes with horror/Thrillers? In the end, Krasinski has achieved something quite special … a horror film that not only made me feel hope, but triumph.
I give A Quiet Place 10 out of 10 hairs straight up on the back of my neck!
Emily Blunt’s perfectly highlighted more-blonde-than-brunette hair looks fabulous even after 424 days without a trip to the salon!
John Krasinski’s hair also looks good.
If, like me, you hate battery-operated toys, you will forever ban them as holiday gifts after seeing this movie.
This film wonderfully passes the Bechdel test, and provides great opportunities for all actors in the movie.
I was never much of an Office fan (I know — heresy on this blog) but Krasinski seems like a force. Looking forward to watching him down the line.