Sound has always been an essential element of cinematic horror: a buzzing chainsaw; a creaky door; a humming, Edwardian child. What is heard is always more terrifying that what is seen. And, done right, what is not heard is scariest of all. A Quiet Place takes this to an extreme, setting itself in a world where survival is only possible in complete and utter silence.
Taking place in a not so distant future in which the world has been overrun by large, mysterious spider-like creatures that hunt via their excellent hearing, A Quiet Place follows a family of four as they attempt to live their lives without making a sound, a task made considerably more difficult by their soon-to-be-born third child.
Directed by and starring The Office alum John Krasinski alongside his real-life wife Emily Blunt, it is a subtle, simple story that wisely allows the concept to do most of the talking. With almost wordless performances, sound is used carefully, strategically and sometimes eschewed altogether for scenes from the perspective of the couple’s deaf teenage daughter (a part played with admirable intensity by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds, who taught the cast the sign language used throughout).
Coupled with a patient, lingering camera, some nicely restrained CGI, and naturalistic performances, the result is almost unbearable suspense whereby even scenes of total banality are permeated with creeping dread as we wait for the inevitable moments in which the silence is broken.
Like 2017’s much-lauded It Comes at Night, A Quiet Place seeks to examine the intimate domestic disasters caused by an apocalyptic global event. Unlike the former, however, it is with a kind of optimistic humanism that Krasinski approaches the survivalist narrative, something which, thankfully, saves it from becoming yet another ‘people are the real monsters’ flick. As a group of people struggling to repress something so instinctive and intuitive in times of distress, Krasinski, Blunt, and co. are most tested by finding ways to express their love for one another – a sentiment that pairs nicely with the gruesome violence constantly looming.
Of course it’s not perfect and, for all the care and subtlety put into the technical aspects of the film, Krasinski has a tendency to lay it on a little thick plot-wise: a father-daughter rift, a sticky-uppy floorboard nail, a big white board with maybe a few too many clues written on it, are all things that we could have done without.
As a cinematic experience A Quiet Place is more a physical than an intellectual one and, as is often the case with such things, once the tension wears off it is easy to nit-pick. Yet, as a simple, modern horror, A Quiet Place demonstrates a deft and canny ability to turn the minutiae of everyday monotony into the stuff of nightmares.