Review: A Quiet Place (2018)
A Quiet Place is a science-fiction horror film with competently-executed formal elements that largely capitalize on the potential of the novel premise. Giant spider-like creatures have invaded: they are armoured and deadly but blind, relying on their extraordinary sense of hearing to hunt their human prey. The story focuses on a family forced to live a near-silent existence in order to survive. Real-life wife and husband, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski, play the mother and father. They have a younger son (Noah Jupe) and an elder daughter (Millicent Simmonds) who is deaf. The family walks around on their bare feet and use sign language to communicate. The setting is confined to their farm in the country, the surrounding woods, and a few abandoned towns. The mother is expecting a child, and the prospect of a screaming newborn gives impetus to their efforts to create a quiet place in the cellar beneath their barn.
As I noticed at the movie theatre, the restrained and quiet premise encourages the audience to hush up and silently watch the events unfold on screen. The quiet, careful attention heightens the impact of the film, especially when loud noises or sudden movements upset the imposed quiet. Krasinski, who directs and also had a hand in the screenplay (along with Bryan Woods & Scott Beck), has put together a memorable first film.
Unfortunately, repetition is the weakness of A Quiet Place. It’s the nature of horror films to establish formal patterns and then to build on or develop them over the course of the film, essentially teaching the viewer how to be scared or excited while watching the film. There are conventional tactics for scaring and generating suspense in viewers, and part of the pleasure of watching horror films is to note how each film develops and varies these conventional tactics.
For instance, M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, a sci-fi suspense thriller that’s comparable to A Quiet Place in terms of its confined setting and alien monsters, is a great example of a film never generating tensions and scaring the audience in exactly the same way twice. Conversely, the new It, while incredibly creepy and effective at times, doesn’t vary its pattern for scaring the audience enough; each time the monster appears to the children, it goes about scaring them using the same approach.
In A Quiet Place, Krasinski displays some effective techniques, such as representing the aural subjectivity of characters and using narrow focal points and slow pans to reveal things nearby the character that we didn’t know were present. For example, Krasinski soon establishes a pattern of quiet, pan to reveal something, silence, and then a sound to startle the character or monster as well as the viewer. The problem is that once he establishes his patterns for building tension and scaring us, he repeats them a few too many times, without enough variation.
While A Quiet Place doesn’t fully satisfy in terms of horror and suspense, it is thematically satisfying. However, I would also note that the themes are not subtle, in the manner of most sci-fi fables. The film considers the role of parents as protectors. It asks, what freedoms do you restrict to ensure your children’s survival and flourishing while also letting them develop as capable individuals? It’s an essential parenting question magnified by the extraordinary situation of the premise. This is where the film shines. The thematic and dramatic sides of the film almost certainly benefit from the strong connection Blunt and Krasinski bring to and maintain onscreen, but they also convey strong connections to their on-screen children. I found out after seeing the film that Millicent Simmonds is deaf in real-life; this in part explains her convincing performance.
A Quiet Place might be novel in conceit, but it also forms a lot of connections to other, similar films in the alien invasion subgenre. Its compressed vision of what seems to be a large-scale invasion was anticipated by parts of Spielberg’s War of the Worlds (2005). The connection between disability and a creature invasion surely owes to John Wyndham’s 1951 post-apocalyptic novel, The Day of the Triffids, in which carnivorous, slow-moving plants are only able to take over the world because most of humanity has been blinded by a comet. However, A Quiet Place inverts and duplicates the dynamic: the creatures have a disability (blindness) and a strength (incredible hearing), and the humans have to adapt to the new conditions by limiting their abilities—they have to live mutely—to survive. (I should note that the daughter’s deafness is congenital, and that her supposed weakness has also aided her family’s survival, such as by giving them the ability to communicate through sign language.) The post-apocalyptic American countryside reminded me of season two of The Walking Dead, but the focus on one family trying to survive in the wasteland, as well as some of the film’s starker choices, also recall Cormac McCarthy’s devastating 2006 novel, The Road ( along with the 2009 film adaptation). I was reminded of The Road at one point when the son and father glimpse pieces of a horrifying scenario playing out in a weird, creepy old house.
A Quiet Place is a competent sci-fi horror film, but those obsessed with “plausibility” and “plot holes,” conventionally understood, will probably object to parts of the film, if not the entire premise. There are valid nitpicks, but don’t get too hooked on the logic of everything. Nitpicking implausibility can pull apart any Twilight Zone-esque sci-fi “What if?” story. Personally, if a film convinces me on the dramatic level, I’m usually willing to go along with a creative premise, even one that veers into the unlikely, in part as an antidote to our current cinematic universe of risk-averse franchises and generic repetitions. In A Quiet Place, there are enough pleasing narrative, dramatic, and thematic variations to make up for the stiff formal repetitions.
7 out of 10
A Quiet Place (2018, USA)
Directed by John Krasinski; written by Bryan Woods & Scott Beck and John Krasinski, from a story by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck; starring Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe.