SPOILER ALERT: I will discuss aspects of plot and character in this review. I try to keep it to a minimum, but it's always best to watch the film before reading my review.
I'll be honest, horror movies aren't really my thing. I won't deny their importance as a film genre, and I understand there are many people who love them. I would never begrudge them that. But the fact remains that...they're just not my thing. I like some films that might possibly be shoehorned into the genre - The Silence of the Lambs, Get Out and Jurassic Park to name a few. But the classic examples of horror filmmaking - movies like Friday the 13th and Halloween - no, those aren't really my thing.
I'm not sure if fans of horror films would offer up A Quiet Place as a perfect fit into the genre. As with the movies I mentioned above, it's a tough film to categorize. Is it scary? Yes, very much so. There were many points where I was gripping the armrests of my theater seat. But it is other things as well - a family story, most importantly.
Are the films of Alfred Hitchcock "horror" movies? Most people would probably call them thrillers, but I defy you to tell me you watched Vertigo and were not horrified by parts of it. And I guess this gets to the heart of how I prefer for films to deal with horror. Horror is a part of life. There are things we see almost every day that horrify us. And so, I don't see the need to use knife slashes and other forms of brutalization to bring about cheap scares and thrills. We can get that on the evening news. But a thoughtful use of fear and thrills to make us think rather than puke? Yeah, that I can get behind.
And that's exactly why I loved A Quiet Place.
The premise is a dream of a writing prompt - that aliens have come to Earth that can only hunt by sound. If you make a sound, you will be dead within about 20 seconds. However, these creatures cannot see you. But they hear everything. The opening scene does a fantastic job of setting up this premise while also setting up another key component of the film - family dynamics.
The family at the center of our story is the Abbott's, led by father, Lee (John Krasinski), and mother, Evelyn (Emily Blunt - married to Krasinski in real life). Their children are Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward). We meet them as they are quietly scavenging in an abandoned store. We learn later that a catastrophic event occurred in which the aliens came to Earth in meteorites. Quickly, people learned of the fatal effects that noise had in this new paradigm. While shopping, Beau finds a space shuttle toy. He signs to his sister that this will be their way out of this all. It is an early tender moment, one that quickly ends as Lee makes it clear to his son that he cannot keep the toy. It makes too much noise. But after he leaves, Regan gives the toy back to Beau thinking it to be harmless without the batteries. But Beau grabs the batteries from the store counter before they leave.
This scene also sets up a piece of technical prowess that is key to the film's storyline. In this early interaction, we hear differences in sound whenever we're taking Beau's perspective as opposed to Regan's. That is because Regan is deaf, as is Simmonds in real life. This is accentuated by what we, as the audience, hear. When it is from Regan's perspective, sounds are almost completely muffled. It is jarring at times, but it adds a level of verisimilitude and empathy. This also means that Regan is even more handicapped, given the circumstances. Not being able to hear levels of noise around you can have tragic implications, and it doesn't take long for this to occur.
A title card tells us that this opening scene takes place on Day 89 since the aliens came to Earth. This will become an important day in the life of this family, as choices they make will have tragic consequences that will carry with them over the remainder of the story.
After the opening scene, we jump to Day 472. Each family member is dealing with their own sense of grief and guilt based upon what happened on Day 89, and the way this family copes with trauma is extremely well-written. There is a keen eye for family dynamics here, and that is really the heart of what makes this such a powerful film.
Now Evelyn is pregnant with another child. I'll be honest, right when I saw this I thought - why in the world would you have another child under these conditions? One loud cry from a newborn, and the entire family could be in danger. That's to say nothing of the noise of childbirth. A Quiet Place lets you come to these thoughts on your own long before any of them come to fruition. And you can be sure that those exact fears will be addressed, but not until the tension has been cranked to 11.
Tension is used well throughout the film. It follows after Hitchcock's legendary "bomb under the table" approach. According to Hitchcock, a scene in which people are engaging in random conversation around a table when a bomb goes off is scary - to a point. There's tension there, sure, but only for a nanosecond when the bomb goes off. The better approach is to begin the scene by showing the bomb under the table. Then, all the random discussion is incrementally building tension as we scream at the screen for them to look under the table. When the bomb goes off, the tension that has been building and building is released in a way that is superior to the earlier version.
A Quiet Place does this through cues that are presented early on but not given a payoff until far later in the film. The pregnancy is one example, but another is a nail on a basement stair that is pulled up early on in the film. We know that it will cause pain (and thus, presumably, sound) for someone, but we don't know who it will be. This same technique is used in a slightly different fashion with the hearing aid that Lee gives to Regan. It doesn't seem to work, but it may just be that it provides a different service than what Lee originally intended.
In fact, Regan's handicap - which seemed even more detrimental at the beginning - eventually becomes one of her biggest assets by the end of the film. She discovers this through the influence of her family members, but it is ultimately a discovery she comes to on her own.
I was also intrigued by the throwbacks that A Quiet Place makes to other films. There are certainly some similarities between this film and a movie like Signs. That movie scared me a great deal when I first saw it as a kid, but I doubt I would find it to be as frightening as A Quiet Place today. Still, the fact that this is a story centered around aliens and it has deeper themes at play certainly remind you of M. Night Shyamalan's film.
My favorite throwback came in a scene where two characters are in a grain silo hiding from the aliens. A roof panel falls on them, and they use it to fend off the alien. It was a scene that seemed to perfectly align with the famous T-Rex sequence in the original Jurassic Park. I remember the terror of that film when I saw it as a child, and I think this film elicits similar feelings.
The real life marriage of John Krasinski and Emily Blunt has made for multiple charming and enjoyable interviews as the press tour for this film commenced. It certainly added its own layer of authenticity to the film. But it also unveiled why they were intrigued by this script in the first place. Sure they saw the film's scary creatures and power as a horror film. But they chose to do it for what they saw in its story of family. To them, this was a story about the lengths that a parent will go to protect their children.
And that, too, is why I found this to be a film of high quality. Yes, it is frightening at times. However, the scares come from the tension and what we know about the scenario and the stakes rather than coming from cheap slashes and blood. There is some blood and gore, but that's not a crutch for the film. It comes from the storyline. It is born from the narrative and the characters that are living in it. That's a sign of a quality story well-told, and that is certainly how I would describe A Quiet Place.
Note on content: The husband and wife share some intimate moments, but there is no nudity or sexual content to speak of. The mature content in this film certainly comes from frightening sequences, and some blood and gore. A character steps on a nail, and the mother is shown going into labor. Large amounts of blood are shown on screen. The alien creatures that hunt the humans left alive are certainly frightening, but it isn't until later in the film that we really get an up-close view of them. For most of the film, we see flashes of them as they dash across the screen. A person is also found dead in the woods, and we see her remains in gory detail. This film is rated PG-13, and I do think its themes of family dynamics make it worthy viewing for most ages. Still, its frightening nature may make it unsuitable for younger viewers.