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Signs language
The scary movie of the moment was directed by a man more famous for his TV role in the US version of The Office, John Krasinski. No pigeon-holing at Outsider! He and his wife Emily Blunt give the family dynamics some authentic heft in A QUIET PLACE. Camus shuts up...
 
  'A friend of mine, said: "I never pegged you to direct a horror movie." And I said, me neither, because I couldn't even watch horror movies. And he said: "Oh, that's why this is so good. Because, if you were shooting to make one of the best horror movies, you would have missed completely. And, I think the fact you went into it writing a family drama, that you knew people would bond with this family, the scares are ten times scarier, because I don't want anything to happen to this family. So, now it makes more sense to me why I liked this movie and why it feels fresh, because you weren’t gunning for something that you knew very well." And I think that that's really interesting to me. I'm happy that some of the freshness of the movie might just be my ignorance of the genre.'
  Director, John Krasinski*

 

I make no concessions regarding the length of the above quote because it is very illuminating for both the right and wrong reasons. Before I dive in, let me say that A Quiet Place is an effective shocker, a superbly made film with subtly realistic effects in the portrayal of its more fantastic elements, a movie that rockets along with nary a pause for breath (and a very quiet one at that). I'm sure the USP of the film is familiar to you. Extraterrestrial creatures lie dormant on Earth until a noise is detected whereupon they appear from nowhere and chop and smash into pieces whatever caused the sound. It doesn't get purer as a Hollywood pitch than that with the possible exception of the bomb on the bus that will go off if the vehicle goes under fifty miles per hour. You know, like in that film The Bus That Couldn't Slow Down? Thanks to writers Dan Greaney and Reid Harrison of The Simpsons for that gem. The trailer is a lovely example of 21st century movie salesmanship... and that partly is also the issue in me failing to fall for the film unreservedly. 21st century. Go and see the film for a fun night out and read on when you come back. No spoilers as such... 21st century. I find myself falling through the generation gap. A Quiet Place is the credible and entertaining result of a filmmaker ignorant of his chosen genre. Nothing too wrong with that but if anything, ignorance is this. For those with a rich horror pedigree (as viewer not maker) there are moments of frustration in the film that if dealt with simply and decisively could have raised its own bar several notches. But then today's audiences are not steeped in film lore (perhaps neither are the filmmakers being a full generation younger than myself) and if there's one thing that pushes me out on to the margins of relevance is that I know my film history. I cannot cry foul and get away with it if current audiences are (a) scared, (b) happy to be so and (c) unaware of what a modern film might ignorantly but gleefully adapt as its own creation. So strike one for me and a home run for Krasinski and I should just slope off muttering about horror in other less ignorant hands.

John Krasinski as Lee Abbott

It's at this point that I'm reminded of Stephen Fry placing critics in Room 101 (UK TV's hell hole for pet hates). He points out that the arrogance of the critic suggests that if the artist had only come to him/her for advice, the artist's work would have been so much better. I hope to avoid that accusation but still, there was a stunning film inside A Quiet Place, one that I was desperate to embrace. That film never showed its face. It was hiding beneath tropes, technical excellence and clichés of a genre that ignorance was supposed to transcend. While Krasinski got the mechanics right, the tone was off. It felt like he was delivering as many shocking moments as he could without the underlying emotionally fraught aspect that would have given weight to the horrific incidents. It was all MUSIC AND FX LOUD NOISE, "Aaaargh!" and precious little actual dread. The filmmakers even chose to go "Boo!" at moments of blessed relief... "Oh, it's the dad!" or "Oh, she's not dead then...", these moments achieved by bursting the speakers and letting any sense of restraint wander out of the cinema in a too-much-volume induced daze. After so many of those, my "Boo-sensitivity" drains out of me and I sat there just waiting for the next one with no real emotional connection to the family. Let me be clear. This is Emily Blunt. I'm a fan. But after thirty or so minutes, not even the overblown music and effects boom of a 'scary moment' could phase me and honestly this really was a surprise. Every conceivable moment of shock was over-delivered to the point that as a viewer you felt stuffed to the gills with jolts. Yes, there were moments that worked well in terms of tension but so many moments were telegraphed when they should have stayed unforeseeable. When Blunt picks up her precious baby, I sat there mouthing a description of the soon to come camera movement which just had to result in the creature (already seen disappearing underwater) rising up in time with Blunt's movements. Is that a horror fan's dissatisfaction or a horror filmmaker who has a handle on his real audience and shouldn't really care what I think?  It may not seem like it but I am trying to say how good this film is by not undercutting it so much as reminding people that there are more things... "...in heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in horror's history." Even Will S. couldn't come up with that line.

I loved the trailer and showed it to friends and was enthusiastic to sample the finished effort. Truth be told I was a little anxious. I love horror movies but do not relish being scared. A vulnerable fear fragment from my childhood hangs on to my psyche ironically wishing like hell to be damaged in the same way some horror films have damaged me in the past. I think we are too far into my future for that ever to be a viable outcome ever again. But I can dream (or even nightmare if we can 'enverbinate' that noun). A joke you laugh at, by definition, is one you've never heard before or one you can claim to have forgotten if you had. A horror film you are scared by is the same. The irony of saying I've never heard of this kind of film before is not lost on me (hearing and sound are rather important in A Quiet Place) and neither can I claim to have forgotten the machinations of the horror genre this film happily apes. So despite the glowing reviews, my best intentions and my knowledge of how these films work and how they fit together, I have run my nose into the ground trying to appreciate the film's obvious craft.

Emily Blunt as Evelyn Abbott cautions silence

The acting of the family five is faultless. Krasinski is a sympathetic father devoting his life to the safety of his children. His wife, Blunt at her most vulnerable and strong (that's great acting) is solid as the mother trying to live in a world where one audible slip could unleash the hairless, long limbed nasties into her home. The children are also collectively a marvel; Cade Woodward is assaulted over batteries (sorry); Noah Jupe does sustained terror like a pro with one silo-based grimace-slip which could have been reigned in a tad editorially; and Millicent Simmonds gets the juicy role, unwittingly instigating a swift snap tragedy and nursing a sense of unloved inadequacy over that well intentioned but fatal slip of kindness. The press for the film has gone to town on the actress' real life deafness, which is fine. But for the purposes of believability, it's not important dramatically however much of a milestone – and a necessary one – it represents in terms of inclusivity. The film takes her POH seriously enough (point of hearing, naturally) to deaden the soundtrack when she's the centre of a scene's attention. This is an aspect of the film that really works well. Oh, for the balls (and impossible ask) of having the entire film told through her ears...

The special effects focus on the sound-averse aliens. Now I could have sworn their look came from the Cloverfield creature designer, Neville Page – the long limbs, sharpened claws and multi-faceted... uh... face. Page's particular aesthetic is so prevalent now (Giger's in the mix but then he always will be) that we've yet to be surprised by a malevolent nasty since 1979. The creature design is credited to production designer Jeffrey Beecroft with special effects supervisor Scott Farrar taking the creation credit. These critters have ears as sensitive to certain frequencies as the best movie monster in the last two decades (curiously absent from many 'best of' lists). Voiced inimitably by Crispin Glover, Beowulf's Grendel is a masterclass in creature design and performance. His ultra-sensitive and gooey ear holes are nodded at in A Quiet Place but I can bet the filmmakers didn't create their creatures to deliberately reference Grendel. The creatures are armoured but although we see way too much of them (diluting the scare factor by ten) they are vulnerable enough once the besieged family figure out their aural weakness. In order for them to be terrifying, we sort of have to accept that they are close by all the time – which is clearly nonsense – but hey, make a noise and figure out how far they are away from you seconds before you're shish kebab. Good luck with that. Take away the tremendous help from Marco Beltrami's thunderous and over-ominous score (need a jolt? Hullo Marco!) and the creatures are interesting but green-grey, swift-moving stilt-bodied things with over-complex head scales.

In the grain silo

You know those moments in films where you say "Oh, come on!" Well, A Quiet Place has its fair share, perhaps even its unfair share. Stop reading now if you want no spoilers but it's hard for me to explain what my stance is without spoiling some moments to a degree. So, final chance. This is a fun, scary movie that is worth anyone's time. Here's why it's not The Exorcist...

You live in a world in which you cannot risk making a loud noise. If a sack of washing suddenly snags on something, stop ascending the bloody stairs and investigate why. If you do this, a nail will not suddenly spring up perfectly perpendicular for you to step on later. There are subtler ways of achieving the same result. Even if you do step on the nail (it's inexplicable that the nail would ever be in that position on a wooden step in the first place) it's your duty to press the bloody thing down afterwards so no one else will step on it again. I mean, come on. But alas, no. The nail is erect and proud even after it's done the necessary Blunt force trauma. A silo half full of a certain type of grain does not allow a heavy body falling from height to negotiate it as if it was water. Fall in and you're dead. Sunk. Drowned. Done. But no, a child can stay buoyant and then park themselves on a metal sheet, Titanic style. Another child can sink and nearly drown but when an alien nasty turns up, both children 'hide' under the metal sheet. Under... Would this not result in both children sinking to their deaths? As Anne Billson mentioned on Twitter, why doesn't the family move house to near the waterfall where screams and other sounds can be let loose with impunity? Because building a house takes a bit of noise – muffled by the water? The Shyamalan Signs parallels are stark – aliens, corn fields, invasion scenario... Given these, it's almost impossible to believe that Krasinski was oblivious to some modern horror films. I'll cut him some slack. Quietly.

A Quiet Place is not a place where everything is original. Despite this, the movie works on a surface level and works well. I just wish that the self-proclaimed 'ignorant' filmmakers could have boned up on a few horror tropes simply to avoid them. Despite my misgivings, I believe the inevitable sequel has a chance to be something special... Don't quote me unless I'm right...

 


* https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/a-quiet-place-horror-film-interview-john-krasinski-director-cast-inspirations-emily-blunt-a8291026.html

A Quiet Place poster
A Quiet Place

USA 2018
90 mins
directed by
John Krasinski
produced by
Michael Bay
Andrew Form
Brad Fuller
written by
Bryan Woods
Scott Beck
John Krasinski
cinematography
Charlotte Bruus Christensen
editing
Christopher Tellefsen
music
Marco Beltrami
production design
Jeffrey Beecroft
starring
Emily Blunt
John Krasinski
Millicent Simmonds
Noah Jupe
Cade Woodward

UK distributor
Paramount Pictures
UK release date
5 April 2018
review posted
19 April 2018

See all of Camus' reviews