REVIEW: A Quiet Place (2018)

In the aftermath of a global cataclysm, the world is overrun with lethal carnivorous monsters. They are blind, but their hearing is so keen that the slightest sound can alert them to their victim’s presence. One family – a father (John Krasinski), mother (Emily Blunt), son (Noah Jupe), and daughter (Millicent Simmonds) – do their best to survive in a world where the slighest noise could see them all killed.

A Quiet Place is an absolutely stand-out horror feature. There is no point in delaying that opinion. It is a tightly constructed and well-paced thriller, one packed with both suspense and plenty of ‘jump’ scares. It sets up exactly as much of a world as it needs to tell a story, and it then tells that story with a minimum of dialogue and incredibly deft visual storytelling. Every year seems to bring up at least one ‘must-see’ American horror film: this year it seems to be A Quiet Place.

The film – which John Krasinski co-wrote and directed in addition to starring – is a masterpiece of foreshadowing. The ‘Chekov’s gun’ principle dictates that, in Anton Chekov’s own words: ‘If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.’ A Quiet Place spends a lot of time hanging an awful lot of guns on its wall. The family’s mother is pregnant. There is a loose nail poking out from a stair. A small boy finds a toy with electronic sounds. The father tries to repair a hearing aid for his deaf daughter. Every plot element is carefully set up and sign-posted, so that in the film’s second half there’s nothing to do but run like hell and scare the pants off the audience.

It sounds simplistic, but in all honesty I think Krasinski recognised that it needed to be. In a film without dialogue it is hard to develop a complex and rich story, and what he instead presents is taught, direct, and powerfully effective. The characters are so easy with which to engage. A particular highlight is Millicent Simmonds’ performance as the daughter Regan. Both the character and the actor are deaf, and Simmonds’ emotional and heartfelt performance is one of the best I’ve seen this year. This is disability representation done right, and the film deserves every accolade for doing what so many other studio pictures fail to achieve.

The rest of the film’s cast are also very strong. Emily Blunt is exceptional as pregnant mother Evelyn, but then she is one of those actors who seems impressive in pretty much any role to which she tries her hand. As father Lee, John Krasinski avoids his comedy skills altogether to play a man gripped with fear that he cannot protect his family. Noah Jupe makes for a nervous and visibly traumatised young son Marcus; his scenes opposite Krasinski in particular are effective and often-times heartbreaking.

The film’s other great achievement is its sound design. In a film where making a noise gets you killed, it is surprising just how layered and effective the sound design is. It shifts style and tone based on character perspective. It slips comfortably from the diegetic (sounds contained with the scene, like birdsong or footsteps) to the non-diegetic (the musical score) and back again. Krasinski has avoided simple realism, and the result is one of the most interesting treatments of sound I can remember hearing in a film.

This is a great and artful horror film, and I suspect it is one that is going to continue to rise in stature and esteem over the coming years. I have not seen Krasinski’s previous two directorial features, but based on A Quiet Place it is clear we need to start paying more attention to his work.

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