Film & TV

A Quiet Place Is Nothing to Shout About

John Krasinski and Noah Jupe in A Quiet Place (Jonny Cournoyer/Paramount Pictures)
John Krasinksi’s nearly silent horror movie needs substance instead of a gimmick.

A Quiet Place is one of those tiresome gimmick-fueled horror movies like 2010’s Buried (Ryan Reynolds in a coffin for 95 minutes) or 2012’s Silent House (the entire feature is a single take of Elizabeth Olsen being menaced). This time there’s (almost) no spoken dialogue: Make a loud noise, and you’re a monster’s lunch.

John Krasinski and his real-life wife, Emily Blunt, play parents of three who are expecting another shortly. Neither they nor their children speak or make any noise louder than a footfall, and we’ll soon learn why. Their remote farmhouse is stalked by three (or more) fast-moving, armored, bug-like creatures the size of Hyundai Elantras. Say hello to one of them, and it’ll be the last thing you ever say, or rather second-to-last, before “Arrrrrgh!” or, possibly, “Are those my intestines?”

I Am Legend covered similar ground, but that movie (and its predecessor, The Omega Man) knew well enough to keep moving into different situations. Also they were focused on the ingenuity of their heroes. In A Quiet Place (which Krasinski also co-wrote and directed and which has a very slight tendency to portray the Krasinski character as the noblest dad who ever lived) the only factor I can see that is keeping the family alive is good fortune. You would think, for instance, that after more than a year of evading the monsters, who seem to be close cousins to the H. R. Giger–designed star of Alien, the couple would have figured out how to completely soundproof their house, but they haven’t. You’d think they wouldn’t do things like leaving bare nails sticking up out of stairs, but they do. They have a shotgun, but they hardly ever keep it with them, instead going for walks completely unarmed. Two family members nearly kill themselves falling into grain silos. I don’t want to choose sides here, but the spidery people-impalers are clearly the superior life form in this movie, and deserve to have these bozos step aside and let them rule the planet.

A gimmick within the gimmick is that one of the couple’s children, a daughter (Millicent Simmonds), is deaf, which means everyone is fluent in sign language, a useful skill when speaking aloud is verboten. There isn’t a lot of dramatic resonance in her plight, though: When the world has gone silent, deafness matters a lot less. Yet the dad spends most of his time trying to invent a suitable hearing aid for the girl, even though the monsters are so fast that by the time you hear one of them, you’re probably in its belly. It turns out that the hearing-aid obsession will be important but only because of sheer coincidence. The error in storytelling here is as obvious as a nail sticking up out of a staircase. Horror screenwriters, don’t make your heroes lucky, make them resourceful.

Still, the film could work if it offered something substantial in the way of subtext. Krasinski has said he was inspired in part by the disorientation of becoming a father, but little of this comes through in the script. At any rate, far from causing chaos the kids in the movie are preternaturally well-behaved, even the newborn, who is quieter than the average five-year-old, though you would expect the baby’s arrival to shatter the tranquility of the house and get everyone killed. How the infant’s mother manages to keep him quiet almost all of the time is simply not explained. Nor are there any illuminating tips about how to give birth without painkillers and without making a sound. You’d at least expect Blunt to be seen taking a long swig of whisky, but no, she merely grits her teeth a bit and the deed is done.

Just as it fails to tease out any useful allegory about the terrors of being a parent, A Quiet Place also doesn’t do any faffing about with the particulars of how the country (or is it the world?) came to be overwhelmed by large insect-men. It’s merely straight-up horror that drops you right into the situation. I’m always relieved when an apocalyptic movie manages not to sneak in a lecture about climate change or pollution, but then again if you eschew thematic heft all you’ve really got is a movie about waiting for creepy things to jump out suddenly and make loud noises. For me, that’s not enough, not when the characters are as uninspiring as this lot.

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