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*Mild Spoilers Ahead*
Once in a while, a premise to a movie is so ingenious that one just wants to stand-up and give the screenwriters an applause.
Recently, there was It Follows where the monster can take any form and walks slowly towards you – making any person walking in the background of a shot terrifying. There was Lights Out, where the creature could only manifest itself in darkness – making any time a light is flickering dread inducing.
A Quiet Place turns cinema’s biggest advancement into adversary: sound. Co-writer and director John Krasinski stars as father, Lee, who must protect his wife and children from alien invaders who terrorise his farm, viciously killing anyone who dares make a noise.
What’s particularly satisfying about A Quiet Place is that it not only has an inventive premise, it capitalises on it to maximum effect. The moment one realises that Emily Blunt’s Evelyn – Lee’s wife – is pregnant, a knot forms in the viewer’s stomach. Even if she succeeds giving birth without making a sound, babies are notoriously loud – elements which lead to a gripping and visceral third-act.
Also impressive is how physical the performances are. Taking verbal communication out of the equation, the actors move differently – hunched over to produce as little sound-waves as possible. Well everyone aside from Millicent Simmonds (also starring in Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck this week) as Lee and Evelyn’s deaf daughter Regan, someone who has lived her life without sound and thus becomes the key to defeating the monsters.
Krasinski, who up until this point has only directed middling comedy-dramas, displays a real flair behind the camera. When in Lee and Evelyn’s POV, the sound is slightly heightened. Meanwhile, when we are following Regan, the audio is completely dropped out, aside from the brief hum of her hearing aid. These all combine to create a soundscape which further stresses the importance of noise to the film.
Another benefit of A Quiet Place’s ‘sound is the enemy’ premise is how thematically juicy it is, playing almost like a Rorschach test for viewers. One could interpret it as a timely allegory for how people can be persecuted for making noise via social media. It could also be read as playing into humans’ fears regarding both uncomfortable silences and loud noises in spaces which should be silent.
However, what really shines through in Krasinski’s movie is the theme of parenthood, particularly a responsibility to protect one’s children in a world where danger is around any corner. Having already lost one child to the sound monsters, Lee and Evelyn must battle grief while still trying to protect their other two children (including Suburbicon’s Noah Jupe, whose wide eyes quaking in fear look right out of a silent movie) and bringing another into the world.
The end product is a film which combines the melancholy and themes of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road with the high-concept thrillers M. Night Shyamalan made his name with. High praise indeed.