John Krasinski is the co-writer, director, and star in A Quiet Place, an imaginative horror film with a disarmingly surprising amount of heart. The movie takes place in a rural part of a dystopian world, in which a family has somehow managed to survive in their humble abode on a farm for well over a year despite being surrounded by giant alien monsters that viciously attack upon hearing sound. It revolves around Krasinski’s character Lee, a bearded survivalist who’s been trying to figure out how to kill the monsters and keep his family safe. There’s a dull comfort in Krasinski’s traditionalist, fatherly role, one that even in this harrowingly quiet film, speaks volumes about our society’s values.
The film makes you aware of your own privileges as a listener—film, we often forget, is as aural as it is visual. The theater is mostly dead silent throughout the film’s run, with, of course, the exception of very loud popcorn chewers. A Quiet Place elevates the horror genre’s jump scare—you know, those annoying sudden noises that pollute the Insidious franchise—and somehow crafts sound into a simultaneously tragic and terrifying medium. The sound design is not only ingenious but overtly wielded to captivate the audience. For example, the sound tapers off when the camera switches to Regan, Lee’s deaf daughter (wonderfully played by the deaf actress Millicent Simmonds). I’ve never seen a movie where the communication is predominantly American Sign Language, so watching the movie strikes me as an interesting and unique experience. The decision to craft a horror movie around sound allows the story to be both visually and aurally powerful—as much as the viewer will listen closely for anything out of the ordinary, they will also be actively seeking for visual cues.
A Quiet Place made me cry. And I seldom cry watching horror movies, unless they are very good, like The Babadook or Train to Busan. The family’s strained love feels believable. The strained relationship between Lee and Regan gives the film a touch of coming-of-age drama that makes the climax so much more impactful. Additionally, Krasinski’s on-screen romance with his wife Emily Blunt, who plays the mother Evelyn, is wonderfully natural and understated.
As much as I’ll sing praises about the movie, I also have to mention the aspects that irk me. As Richard Brody astutely points out in his review of the film, there’s this backward, blustery male survival narrative that overwhelms the story. If there is a pharmacy in town, why would the Abbott family choose to live in the woods? Why not a hospital or a bank? Also, the family has a handy rifle, despite the fact that it don’t seem to be very effective at all (for the most part). Which makes me feel like including it was more of an aesthetic choice rather than a practical one. And it’s an aesthetic choice—one of a crazed, armed white man—that feels particularly troubling given America’s recent tragedies. If they somehow manage to have Apple earphones, I’m sure that the Abbotts are living in a world where there’s technology—buildings, chemicals—advanced enough so that people don’t have to resort to living in the woods with guns to defend themselves against these alien monsters.
As much as the relationship between Regan and Lee moves me, it also troubles me. Deeply. Lee tells Regan to stay at home to help her pregnant mother cook and do laundry while he takes his son fishing. Sure, she’s deaf, so he’s worried about her. But still, the early twentieth century folksy Americana gender politics leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Of course, it’s Regan and Evelyn who eventually learn how to defeat the monsters. Evelyn also proves herself to be incredibly brave and resourceful throughout the movie (nail scene, anyone?). I’m not sure if these moments redeem the regressive implications of the exposition, though.
My friend tells me that A Quiet Place is a great movie—if you don’t think about it too much. The driving concept is unique, the characters are well-drawn, and the viewing experience is sublime. The implications of the story though? Those are cans of worms we should make a point to open.