Magazine | June 11, 2018, Issue

Silent Minority

John Krasinski and Noah Jupe in A Quiet Place (Paramount Pictures)

I am late to A Quiet Place, the horror sensation of the spring, which has grossed $176 million and counting and perhaps, perhaps, finally allowed John Krasinski, its co-writer, star, and director, to be recognized for something besides being that goofy-looking dude from The Office who somehow married Emily Blunt.

Although because Emily Blunt, a.k.a. Mrs. Krasinski, is also in the movie, and because she manages to be radiantly herself even while giving birth silently in a bathtub while an insectoid alien creature tries to hunt her by sound, the possibility that her husband married up considerably is not exactly put to rest.

What the movie does decisively establish is that Krasinski can direct a harrowing suspense movie, which seems like a far better use of his talents than the attempt by Michael Bay to turn him into an action star in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi two years back. In fairness, A Quiet Place also requires its writer-star to act like an action hero now and then, but not the buffed-up military sort; he’s playing an everydad in extremis this time, which makes his soft, cartoon-character version of good looks a much more reasonable fit.

The extreme situation is a clever sci-fi/horror conceit: The Earth has been invaded by huge alien creatures in armored carapaces that hunt exclusively by sound, and they have wiped out much of the human race but not the family that Krasinski’s father heads — in part, it seems, because the latter live in a fortuitously remote farmhouse, and in part because his older daughter (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf and so the family is adept at communicating via sign language.

This skill has enabled them to establish a sustainable life, of sorts, one lived in a silence deep enough to shame a Trappist — complete with perpetually sandy earth scattered on all the paths of their farm to deaden footsteps, footprints painted on the floors of the old farmhouse to show you where to step to avoid a single creak, complicated signaling systems, and a battery of video cameras installed to monitor the property. They also have a problematic blessing on the way: Blunt’s mother is expecting, and Krasinski’s dad (the characters presumably have names in the script, but I don’t think you ever hear them) has tried to set up a soundproofed basement, roofed with pillows and newspapers, in which she can be delivered and their child can safely cry.

The existence of this bunker raised the second-biggest question of the movie; namely, why the family spends as much time as they do aboveground. (When a post-mealtime accident almost calls the creatures down on them, I found myself wondering, Why not put your game room in your basement, like a normal American family?) The biggest question is why nobody in this world has figured out the creatures’ weakness — “What is their weakness?” reads a scrawl on the dad’s basement whiteboard, in case you didn’t think to wonder — when I figured it out at least an hour before the climax.

But similar questions could be asked of many genre exercises, and this one offers many pleasures as ballast against its various implausibilities — not just the intense compressed suspense that makes an upturned nail in a floorboard as terrifying as Freddy Krueger, but also a wonderful use of natural sound and physical beauty, in which the rush of a river and the crash of a waterfall offer refuge and safety even as other forms of pastoral loveliness conceal a thousand ways to make a sound and die.

As in many horror movies, the obvious themes of A Quiet Place tend toward a kind of mild social conservatism — the embattled family, the parents as desperate protectors, the pregnancy as an act of pro-life defiance in a darkening world. And naturally, in our age of takes, that tendency has provoked some highly politicized readings, notably from The New Yorker’s Richard Brody: “In their enforced silence,” he writes of the movie, “these characters are a metaphorical silent — white — majority, one that doesn’t dare to speak freely for fear of being heard by the super-sensitive ears of the dark others.”

This reading is hysterical, but to the extent that it touches on anything real I thought A Quiet Place actually undercuts a certain kind of male-paternal fantasy of real estate and retreat, in which a self-sufficient farmhouse is romanticized as the best place to ride out the apocalypse. Yes, in the movie the family’s isolation partially protects them — but the creatures still arrive, and once they’re there neither your guns nor your well-stocked grain silos can save you. They’re in the cornfields, they’re in the woods, they’re crawling on your roof, you can’t protect your kids, you can’t protect yourself . . .

. . . which is to say that for anyone who lives in the northeastern United States, A Quiet Place feels less like a narrative of white flight and more like a parable of Lyme disease.

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