"A Quiet Place" (2018) Review
Get Out was a surprise, but not like this.
Let me back up. There's a running joke I've seen in reviews for A Quiet Place where people keep wondering if the resurrection of the horror genre lies in giving horror movies to TV comedy stars, seeing that John Krasinski directed A Quiet Place and that Jordan Peele directed Get Out. But I would also take this time to point out that Krasinski was an actor on The Office, the show that made him famous. Jordan Peele developed the skits he starred in on Key and Peele (with a few of those skits being horror based), so it actually wasn't unreasonable that Peele could make a good movie. The fact it was an Academy Award winning film was super surprising, but still, not completely out of the blue.
The idea that the man who once played Jim Halpert on The Office directed A Quiet Place is something I still can't wrap my head around. To be fair, this is the third movie that Krasinski's has directed, but his previous two films were small indie drama/comedies, not... This. If you're going to have a gimmick, stick with it, and A Quiet Place commits hard to its scary as hell concept.
The concept is that aliens have descended on Earth. No real details about the aliens that wiped out most of mankind are offered since the film's opening text is "Day 89." The film isn't about how mankind fell, but how it's had to adapt to these monsters that stalk them. The aliens hunt entirely by sound, meaning out of place noises can literally get you killed. The film centers on a family made up of a father (John Krasinski), a mother (Emily Blunt), a daughter (Millicent Simmonds), and a son (Noah Jupe). The cast is extremely limited beyond these four performers, but they're all really damn good.
The hardest part of talking about this movie is that it's such a beautifully lean concept that giving up too many details spoils a lot of the "fun." I put the word fun in quotes because my head literally still hurts from the stress that accumulated right behind my eyes watching this whole thing unfold. With a concept like that, you'd hope the sound design is really on point, and it is. Every little (and big noise) will completely unnerve you for the film's entire runtime, but I just want to take a moment to talk about just how great this idea is on paper before it's even executed.
Horror films usually tie jump scares to loud noises, or false jump scares to loud noises. It's the easiest and fastest way to get a momentary jolt out of the audience, and it's kind of a cheap way to do it. But if your premise relies on characters being extremely quiet and any noise of any volume happens, it's instantly terrifying. Even the false jump scares in A Quiet Place could lead to someone's death, and that's brilliant. Truth be told, there are only a couple of false jump scares in this movie and only one of them feels cheap. The rest present an immediate threat for the most part, and one that doesn't gets an immediate (and violent) payoff.
The concept is kind of limiting and sounds like something you might see in a contemplative piece of horror, but A Quiet Place really is a monster movie at the end of the day. It does feature a lot of character building in the first act and day to day activities to flesh out the world, but the majority of the movie is the "one bad night" scenario that makes some of the best horror movies out there. And most of the activities serve to set up the rules and the space of the farm that the family lives on so that as an audience we understand the geography of the film.
Once it gets into the "one bad night," A Quiet Place refuses to stop. It becomes a relentless escalation of tension as characters make human mistakes, suffer bad luck, or have to deal with the inevitable toll of time. Emily Blunt's character is pregnant and when her water breaks... If you thought childbirth was stressful already, it's a lot scarier when a praying-mantis-xenomorph-thing is coming up the stairs to check things out. It's the kind of sequence that feels like something David Cronenberg might have dreamed up if he'd made a straight monster movie back in the 1980s but had a slight PG-13 restriction to deal with. The PG-13 rating gets pushed pretty hard here, especially once the monsters descend on the farm.
And man these monsters are scary as hell. They slowly reveal the design throughout the movie, and while the design initially falls into the "gray Cloverfield-esque" creature design that's dominated the modern monster movie, a particular quirk of the design sets it way way apart. They're not as iconic as other modern monsters like the aliens of Attack the Block, but once the film reveals how these monsters hear, it instantly evolves the design into something truly disgusting and kind of awesome. It's solid work that rises to the occasion.
The monsters definitely give the movie a modern B-movie vibe, and I don't mean that in a bad way. This is a film that seems to understand some of its schlocky influences (the newspaper clippings throughout the movie have a straight up 1950s vibe, declaring things like "THEY HUNT BY SOUND," stuff like that), but it's still completely engrossing. This is where the cast is really worth mentioning. I already said they're all damn good, but they feel like a real family. It helps that Emily Blunt and John Krasinski are married in real life, so their chemistry is completely believable.
The kids are just as good, but the standout is Millicent Simmonds as the daughter. Simmonds' character is deaf in the film, but she's actually deaf in real life, and her scenes involving her father trying to rebuild a cochlear implant are heartbreaking in their own way. Simmonds' character has a lot depth, and while she is an angry teenager that doesn't always make the best decisions, she has her reasons and a specific pain that she carries throughout the film.
I won't go into specifics here, but I also love the way that this movie ends. It's kind of abrupt, but you can't help but feel a weird sense of glee at where they decided to cut this film off. It's the kind of "smash to black" ending that feels instantly iconic.
The only real problem I have with the movie beyond some slight logic holes (which I'm more than willing to let slide because of how well executed this all is), it's the film's music score. It's not a bad score, it works well and it's not used a ton, but I kind of wish it didn't have music at all. I wish the film had a soundscape like mother! that removes music entirely because of A Quiet Place's concept, but the score doesn't hurt the movie any.
A Quiet Place isn't a thematically deep or challenging horror film, but it's great at being a super scary creature feature with a great hook. Try and see this in a theater, because even though there will probably be a few jerks who try to laugh their way through the movie or talk, you'll still feel the air get sucked out of the room for a ton of scenes, and that's worth experiencing.