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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

A Quiet Place movie review: hushed horror

A Quiet Place green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
An apocalypse unlike any onscreen before. A film often almost unbearably tense, in part because it audaciously reconsiders the role sound plays in eliciting our emotional response.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): love Emily Blunt and John Krasinski
I’m “biast” (con): not a fan of most horror films
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, female coprotagonist
(learn more about this)

Welcome to a whole new apocalypse.

I mean this: Humanity has been contemplating its own end since before we could even pull it off ourselves (like with nuclear weapons or genetically engineered viruses, or whatever). But we have never conceived of it looking — or, ahem, sounding — anything like this before. Science fiction is a genre in which the visual media — TV and film, and videogames, too — are always playing catchup with the literature. But the end of the world as dreamt up, nightmared up, by A Quiet Place is, as far as I’m aware, something that SF novelists had not yet stumbled upon. Probably because this is one apocalypse that would only work effectively onscreen.

Science fiction films are always playing catchup with the literature. But A Quiet Place’s end of the world is something that SF novelists had not yet stumbled upon.
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And that’s really ironic because it seems at first as if the movie has tossed out one of the things that, since the late 1920s, we have come to consider essential to cinema: sound. What is happening here is that humanity is being hunted by hideous monsters who are blind but have incredibly sensitive hearing. As we meet the family of survivors A Quiet Place is centered around, they are scavenging a shop in a small upstate New York town that appears entirely depopulated. Mom (Emily Blunt: The Girl on the Train, The Huntsman: Winter’s War) and Dad (John Krasinski: Detroit, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi) and kids — a girl around 12 (Millicent Simmonds), a boy maybe 8 or 9 (Noah Jupe: Wonder), and a tyke barely out of toddlerhood (Cade Woodward) — are all barefoot, the better to muffle their footfalls. They communicate only through sign language. (We never learn their names, because they never have any need to sign them. The end credits finally clue us in.) They have to be careful not to drop anything that might clatter and bang. Later, we see that their farmstead house and surroundings have been soundproofed as much as possible: painted markings on the wooden floors to show where it’s safe to step without creaking; paths through the fields and between house and barn marked out in sand to prevent crunching of leaves and twigs; a Monopoly board with felt playing pieces; dinner served on cloth, not on dishes that might clank.

«Oh my god, the cobwebs in this bathroom are terrifying...»

«Oh my god, the cobwebs in this bathroom are terrifying…»

It’s impossible to overstate how remarkable this is, what an audacious choice for Krasinski, who also directs, to have made. (He wrote the screenplay with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck.) What is a horror movie — for that is what this is — without screaming? What, they can’t use guns to fight the monsters? (It’s a farm; of course they will have guns, except they’re now completely useless.) And then comes an unexpected noise, but what we’d consider a completely ordinary one, and it is bone-chilling startling, a horror in itself. Will it draw the monsters? Any sound outside surely means that it has. Instead of sound having to be amplified to be scary, any sound here has the power to cut right through you. The stillness and calm of the life of this family only magnifies their terror. Instead of eschewing cinematic sound, A Quiet Place utilizes it in a way entirely unlike any movie I’ve ever seen (or heard!) before.

(One perhaps unforeseen horror of A Quiet Place? It highlights the deficiencies of modern multiplexes. We’ve all had the experience of some particularly loud action sequence bleeding in from the screen next door, but with this movie, even soft soundtracks from the next screen over have the potential to ruin the aural experience of this film.)

A Quiet Place keeps its monsters secret and hidden for a very long time, which is far more tantalizingly horrible than if it kept showing them off.
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There isn’t a single aspect of this movie that isn’t brilliantly conceived and perfectly executed. It opens on “Day 89” of the end of the world, skipping past the part of the story that we will have seen too many times before to have been surprised by it yet again: it will have been all rampaging monsters and, yes, people screaming and the usual disaster junk, and we didn’t need to see that. And then it jumps to “Day 472,” truly in the thick of what will be unique and fresh extrapolations of its already inventive scenario. As I have said many times before, far too many movies that venture into science fiction or fantasy speculation end before they even begin to explore the real ramifications of those speculations. That cannot be said about this movie.

Krasinski keeps the creatures secret and hidden for a very long time, which is far more tantalizingly horrible than if he kept showing them off. We never have any idea what the monsters are, and neither do the family onscreen, it seems, though their shock and panic at even the thought of them is utterly contagious. Probably anyone who actually gets close to them dies before they can tell of them. And it seems the collapse of civilization occurred so quickly that possibly no one was able to learn much about them. “Aliens,” the headline on one old newspaper the family had collected suggests, but who knows? Chillingly, on that Day 89 expedition to town, the headline on a yellowed pile of copies of the New York Post screams “IT’S SOUND!” The end of the world, as reported by, most likely, the last editions of the newspapers ever.

«Dad, I hate the Tom Sawyer game already. Can’t we play something else?»

«Dad, I hate the Tom Sawyer game already. Can’t we play something else?»

Not only is the how and why of this apocalypse unlike anything we’ve cinematically experienced before, so is the gentleness and even homeyness with which it plays out. It’s hardly a “nice” end of the world, obviously, but humanity has been literally unable to descend into a Mad Max–style every-man-for-himself dystopia: that would be too noisy. Even something that would be considered a detriment in other apocalypses is a benefit here, a contributor toward survival instead of the opposite: the daughter of the family is deaf (as actress Simmonds actually is), which is probably why they all know the sign language that has given them an edge over other people who may not have been able to communicate with one another as effectively. (Disability is literally ability here. Maybe even a superpower.) This is a movie about the absolute essentialness of working together to survive, of the bonds of family as life-giving. It’s difficult even to argue much when you can’t shout at one another. Sure, the daughter is getting moody with approaching adolescence, and they’re all struggling with the obvious grief of their situation, of humanity’s situation. But there are hints of other survivors: signal bonfires light up the landscape around this family’s farm in the evenings, a silent “hello, we’re still here” from afar. All hope has not yet been lost.

On the other hand, Kraskinski finds unexpected dread in that hope, too: By Day 472, Mom is quite heavily pregnant. How is she going to give birth without making any noise? How are they going to stop a newborn from wailing out loud constantly? How many new challenges does survival demand?

A Quiet Place is often an almost unbearably tense film. It is frequently excruciating in its terror. I am only very rarely able to say that about movies that are meant to frighten us. This one scared the hell out of me. That is so wonderfully refreshing.


Click here for my ranking of this and 2018’s other theatrical releases.


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A Quiet Place (2018) | directed by John Krasinski
US/Can release: Apr 06 2018
UK/Ire release: Apr 05 2018

MPAA: rated PG-13 for terror and some bloody images
BBFC: rated 15 (sustained threat)

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • clayjohanson

    Looking forward to this! One comment, though:

    “Disability is literally ability here. Maybe even a superpower.”

    Except for the fact that if you’re deaf, you may not be able to tell if you, or something around you, has made a sound that will draw the aliens to you. It’s a double-edged sword.

  • The movie makes it pretty clear that if the aliens are drawn to you, there’s not a lot you can do to prevent yourself getting killed. On the balance, being prepared in advance for a quiet world turns out to have huge survival value.

  • Ok, we saw this on Saturday. Packed theater.
    The movie was so darn quiet for a while, and I was impressed with how the people around me went along with it. Then some womans phone goes off, and she couldn’t find the off button. Ugh.
    The build up in the beginning was a bit slow, but that was important to the story.
    I’d say it’s a very well made film that works with it’s premise well.
    The atmosphere and setting are great, and have us asking so many questions. How did the world get this way? Where did these creatures come from? Aliens? Science experiment? Whats going on with those other groups/families lighting the fires? There’s so much more to tell!
    My wife and I, who have been horror junkies for many years, went out to dinner and discussed the movie. This discussion is what caused this to be very good, but not great. There are too many small issues.
    A little bit of sexism irked me. Both with the daughter and the wife. Although Emily Blunt is amazing in this. Wow.
    That damn nail makes no sense! I build things. I know how wooden stairs are built. That nail has no purpose but to be there for the story. It would make more sense if they were missing a step or something.
    Whats with the constant shushing? I’m pretty sure they all know.
    Why the F would they have a kid in this nightmare world? Was it an oopsie? That kid could be the death of all of them.
    Plus it has typical horror movie cliches, which I really don’t fault it for.

    It was still a fun movie and I would totally recommend it. Better than 90% of horror movies that come out.

  • A little bit of sexism irked me.

    Such as?

    Why the F would they have a kid in this nightmare world?

    Because birth control is unreliable but sex offers comfort and security and distraction from the nightmare world around you. How is this even a question?

  • My wife and I both reacted when he chose to take his son to the river instead of his older and more willing daughter. Nan said it was because she’s a girl. And, yes, the river talking negated this somewhat, but it’s still not a reason not to take her. His “next time” was not very convincing.

    I understand the sex thing, of course, but damn, be more careful! Plus, I got the feeling they did it on purpose to “replace” their lost son. Especially how solemn they were when they said “it’s a boy”. How did she know that, anyway? Hadn’t thought of that before.

    I critique because I enjoyed it. If I didn’t like it I wouldn’t be thinking about it so much.

  • Danielm80

    You know those SPOILER tags that everybody finds irritating? They’d be a really big help here.

  • I apologize. I totally spaced on that.

  • Clearly the dad and the daughter have a relationship that is a bit contentious, but I don’t see sexism as the issue with the scene you refer to. Far more likely that the dad doesn’t trust that the daughter will obey him in what could be a dangerous situation, given how she has been behaving with him. No, his “next time” is NOT convincing, but it doesn’t need to be sexism motivating him.

    But even if you’re entirely right and the dad is driven here by nothing but sexism, that only makes his character a bit sexist (and he gets pushback for it). The movie itself is certainly not sexist.

    I understand the sex thing, of course, but damn, be more careful!

    It only takes once. How much more careful should they have been? Should they have abstained completely? That seems unrealistic and unreasonable.

    I got the feeling they did it on purpose to “replace” their lost son.

    So what if they did? That seems very human.

    Especially how solemn they were when they said “it’s a boy”. How did she know that, anyway?

    She didn’t say that until after the baby was born.

  • Sorry, I don’t know how to do the breaks like you do

    “She didn’t say that until after the baby was born”
    Ahh, true about the baby. Forgot.

    “So what if they did? That seems very human.
    Very true, but not wise in this world

    “It only takes once. How much more careful should they have been? Should
    they have abstained completely? That seems unrealistic and unreasonable.”
    Ehh, whatever. Maybe resolve those issues without the kind that ends up n a baby? All sorts of ways. This is why I figure they did it on purpose. Could have been avoided easily.

    Funny thing about the sexism thing is that I became so attuned to these things nowadays by following you for years. I was surprised you didn’t see what I saw. Although it IS a very minor part of the story, as I said.
    We don’t know the whole story. we don’t know the extent of their relationship and the problems they have dealt with. He may have great reasons for not wanting her to come outside of being deaf or being a girl. Who knows, really? I couldn’t help but think maybe if he DID take her it would help their relationship, not hinder it, but I don’t really know. None of us do. It’s just something to think about.

  • I couldn’t help but think maybe if he DID take her it would help their relationship, not hinder it, but I don’t really know.

    Yes, it may have. He may well be behaving unreasonably. But that only demonstrates that he is a flawed human being. That’s *good* characterization, not bad.

    Maybe resolve those issues without the kind that ends up n a baby?

    “Resolve those issues”? We’re not talking about scratching an itch. We’re talking about profound intimacy between two people who love each other.

    Are you sure you’re married? :-)

    Sorry, I don’t know how to do the breaks like you do

    You quote by adding these tags around text:

    <blockquote>TEXT GOES HERE</blockquote>

  • *MILD SPOILERS* I
    have a hammer in each hand. I’m going around my property and will
    countersink every nail that dares to pop up its head. That scene almost
    killed me…and then! The BATHTUB! I really, almost died. Anyway, this movie was one of the best horror/thrillers since Alien. It is also one of the most amazing since it was done almost totally without sound. The acting was top-notch. Great job, and highly recommended.

  • The pregnancy was essential to the film. It also showed the resilience of the humans who had survived the initial slaughter. The urge to survive and pass on your DNA is strong and ESSENTIAL. To not reproduce is to totally abdicate to survival pressures, no matter how extreme. Without these survival traits, humans would not even be around to be in this movie.

  • Michiel Deinema

    This movie sounds (har har) awesome. Can’t wait to see it!

  • Rod Ribeiro

    Except for the fact that if you’re deaf, you may not be able to tell if you, or something around you, has made a sound that will draw the aliens to you. It’s a double-edged sword.

    It certainly is, and the movie shows it very well in the first day.

    My middle daughter is Deaf and they do tend to make sounds in the most inconvenient situations. By the time they’re 12, however, they will have learned to behave properly, especially if using a cochlear implant.

    Anyway it’s refreshing to see a representation of aa Deaf person who isn’t an expert lip-reader nor a victim of bullying.

    By the way excellent movie, the first horror movie in decades to really scare the crap out of me.

  • Radek Piskorski

    I thought the daughter’s deafness was an important reason why the father was sidelining her to the benefit of her brother as the sucessor (the one who would learn the survival skills, etc.). I think the father thought she couldn’t protect the mother. I thought the film performed a nice twist by showing that he was wrong. After all, why keep her from going into the basement at all? She could obviously have helped defeat the monsters all along!

  • Radek Piskorski

    I agree the film is not sexist, but I think the father was. The film shows us he was equating her disability with her gender (lack of phallus). He is proven wrong, though.

  • Radek Piskorski

    I would have thought they would have considered some kind of home-made abortion right after she got pregnant. I agree with MarkyD’s point that it the pregnancy came across weirdly as a replacement of the lost boy, which felt cruel to the baby.

  • Radek Piskorski

    What a weird comment.

  • Radek Piskorski

    I stepped on a nail once and it surprisingly didn’t hurt that much.

  • Jurgan

    Excellent movie. I must be a bit slow, though, because I didn’t realize the girl was deaf. I guess I just didn’t know what the cochlear implant was- I thought it was some experimental technology the dad was working on that would be explained later.

  • austencollins

    It was interesting to see how this film used silence to amp up the tension — and compare it with 2016’s Don’t Breathe, which used silence similarly (though not as extensively throughout the movie). I can see where some of the other commentators are coming from wrt sexism, as imo the costume/location choices tap into a lot of the same visual signifiers used for rural white Christian fundamentalist groups, but it doesn’t seem like the movie was deliberately trying to invoke those tropes. (Which made it easier to enjoy A Quiet Place than it was to watch Don’t Breathe.)

  • Danielm80

    SPOILERS
    .
    .
    .
    The daughter blamed herself for her brother’s death, and she thought that her parents did, too. Her parents said that they still loved her just as much—and maybe it’s true—but every interaction with her was filled with grief and guilt. It was obvious that no one in the family had recovered from their loss. So the father had another reason for not wanting to take her on the trip. On top of the difficulty of protecting a child who’s deaf and sometimes disobedient, he may not have been prepared to deal with the tension of spending several hours alone with her. It’s a shame, because if they had spent that time together, it might have helped to heal their relationship, but maybe he wasn’t ready to heal.

  • equating her disability with her gender

    Huh?

  • home-made abortion

    Do you have *any* idea what you’re talking about?!

  • Nick Tomaso

    My friend and I laughed through this one. At first it seemed to have promise. But quickly the illogic became humorous. Electricity galore in the apocalypse. Not wearing shoes because…. I don’t know. Is it supposed to be quieter, especially outside in rough terrain? Hanging decorations… which can fall down? Frenzied running which doesn’t make a sound… at least not recorded and played to the audience. Oh, there is much more. Must check brain out for the night to watch this.

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