SXSW 2018 presented audiences with a prominent string of films, ranging from big-budget action movies to smaller independent fare. Largely, most have been well-received. However, A Quiet Place emerged with an absolute vengeance as one of the darlings of the festival. The small scale, independent horror movie establishes itself as a solid entry into an occasionally rickety genre. The low-budget film from a novice director feels like a work of experienced and polished cinema.
A Quiet Place follows a young family through a not-so-distant dystopian future, which has been overrun by mysterious and horrifying monsters. The only thing we seem to know about these creatures is they hunt by sound. As such, society finds itself plunged into a silent existence for the simple purpose of survival. The film stars John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds. Krasinski directed A Quiet Place from a script he co-wrote with Scott Beck and Bryan Woods.
It should come as no surprise (and not a spoiler) that A Quiet Place is minimalistic with its dialogue. In fact, most of the character interaction takes place in silence, with the actors communicating via American Sign Language. While this strategy will be hit or miss with some viewers, Krasinski easily crafts the aesthetic of the film. The silence is uncomfortable. Even the thought of small noises like a child’s toy or a dropped pill bottle becomes absolutely terrifying in the environment. This is a fascinating filmic experiment and it works in often anxiety inducing ways.
This tactic also carries over to the screening. As the movie plays out, the ear becomes increasingly tuned to the lack of noise. Uncomfortable moments feel doubly so in the stark silence of the movie theater. The shifting and gasping of the audience during the heat of the horror further contributes to the tension. Due to the nature of the storytelling, A Quiet Place relies on jump scares to build anxiety. As such, if you’re not a fan of this type of horror, this is not the movie for you. However, fans of a good, old-fashioned jump scare will most definitely get a kick out of this film.
The success of this experiment hinges (successfully) on the likability of the characters. Since so much of the world is shrouded in silence, narrative struggles with characterisation and development are conceivable (especially in today’s exposition heavy cinematic climate). However, A Quiet Place avoids these problems with ease. While character’s communication is largely limited to actions, looks and American Sign Language, the audience still learns so much about these people, even through the subtlest of moments. We see Lee’s (Krasinski) struggles to protect his family, we feel Regan’s (Simmonds) desire to earn her father’s love. Everything comes through with striking visual power. In a medium which often leans on clunky narrative exposition, the cinematic exploration is in A Quiet Place is beautiful to watch.
Furthermore, the performances in this film are absolutely stunning (especially considering the challenges posed by the narrative form). Probably the biggest standout (once again) is Millicent Simmonds. The young actress made her screen debut at the end of last year in Wonderstruck. In just her second film role, she continues to show just how awesome she is. She easily conveys such a diverse range of emotion in the face of a challenging form. Her ability to emote is absolutely striking. She also served as the bright spot in a similar situation in her last film. She shares a number of powerful moments, forming a particularly powerful bond with Krasinski. There is such heart and emotion behind their interactions, allowing these characters to truly stand out. Keep an eye on this talented young actress. She is bound to be a force in the coming years.
The decision to cast Krasinski and real-life wife Blunt is a brilliant one in the construction of the narrative. Their chemistry completely shines through on screen, successfully crafting the family dynamic on-screen without the assistance of dialogue. There is a subtlety and comfort to their relationship which contributes equally as much to the simple moments as the action sequences. A particularly beautiful scene is one of the most cinematically soft-spoken as the two share a slow dance through a shared earbud. All at one, you understand this couple, their connection, and everything they’ve been through… all without a line of dialogue.
A Quiet Place is a challenging film and a definite bright spot in the contemporary horror landscape. This movie is tense, scary and well-made. While he is a relative newcomer to directing, if John Krasinski has ode movies like this in his wheelhouse, I can’t wait to see what he has coming up in his career.
A Quiet Place is in theaters around the country starting today.