Every so often a small, focused, even intimate film comes by and reminds us that not every film has to have CGI as a foundation, has to be loud, or needs to address the horrors of the contemporary political landscape. Wisely released as a counter to the latest Avengers film, A Quiet Place is a surprisingly good piece of work. Marketed primarily as a horror story, it is much more than that, and all the better for it.
Yes, the premise is a horror premise, but the situation is more of a MacGuffin than in other similar films. We have a post-apocalyptic world (thank God I didn’t have to write the word dystopian one more time) taken over by creatures that can’t see but have over-sensitive hearing and that can destroy you in no time if you make too much noise. It’s a spin on the usual horror set-up, and while we never forget the vulnerability of our main characters, there are other explorations that elevate the film far above the usual horror fare.
There will likely be many a master’s thesis written about the place of sound and noise in the film. Yes, these dangerous creatures force silence or at least a greatly reduced noise volume, and that sets up the world in which the film operates. But the presence of Millicent Simmons (Wonderstruck), a young actress deaf since infancy, does more than help explain how the family could know sign language so well. Her character’s deafness plays naturally into the film and should be a treasure trove for those analyzing the role of silence and sound in film, as well as the role of deafness in cinema. Simmons also happens to be a talented actress and is well poised to be this generation’s Marlee Matlin.
Probably the strongest theme, however, has nothing to do with horror tropes. It’s family, and this is where A Quiet Place may well become a classic. As nearly everyone knows, director/lead actor/co-writer of the script John Krasinski and lead actress Emily Blunt are man and wife in real life as well as in this film. Looking for how their real-life relationship and their filmic one might cross into each other may be an absorbing topic for some. For me, it’s obvious that the love and respect they have for one another informs this movie couple with a high degree of connection and affection. There is a tenderness and protectiveness on both their parts that make this a new kind of “family film”.
The couple’s scene dancing to music they can both hear (no more said about that here) is one of the most touching marital moments in recent cinema. It’s a kind of stolen moment in the midst of constant tension, and it’s lovely to behold. There is a connection between the two leads that serves the film well as they struggle to keep their children safe, constantly having to connect quickly and deeply with one another to avoid harm to themselves or their children. They “go there” quickly and believably, strengthening the film at every turn.
Everyone knows that Blunt is a greatly talented actress, and some of us look forward to her improving her craft even more over the years. Krasinski, though, was a revelation. Known mostly for television’s “The Office” and for lighter and even comedic roles outside of television, here he puts in a fleshed-out dramatic performance that necessarily has to keep the drama to a minimum. He is my new favorite movie dad—strong, caring, self-sacrificial, and equal parts accessible and softly confident. He’s also not just playing the character; he’s settling comfortably into it, making the unbelievable premise that much more believable. This is a man who loves his wife and children, understands that even in this crazy world they inhabit that he needs to connect differently with each child, and is a hero that never acts like one.
Of course, Krasinski also directed the film, which has made ten times its budget domestically alone (as of this writing). To call this a surprise hit is likely the understatement of the year. It will be fascinating to see what he does next. Here he has crafted a film based on something of an absurdity, and has made it tense from the word go, only giving occasional moments of respite, and filled with solid performances and camerawork that keeps the focus on the family and the relatively small world in which it’s trapped. There is one cliché move borrowed from every other suspense/horror film that works in context, but was ultimately a small disappointment. Yet as a whole, the film was a small cinematic jewel.
Yes, it’s a horror film with more than enough tension for a few films. But it’s also a film about sound, about silence, and most of all, about family. Some films, especially those released around the end-of-the-year holidays, have family as a theme. Krasinski has made a film about family that happens to be hidden under the cloak of horror. Go for the thrills; stay for the beautiful picture of what a family can be.