Friday, April 27, 2018

Guest Review: A Quiet Place (2018)

"Hear No Evil:" A Quiet Place

By Jonas Schwartz

Sound plays such a vital essence of any film, whether horror, sci-fi, or comedy, that the audience almost- takes it for granted. Not so for John Krasinski's masterful shocker A Quiet Place. Practically a silent movie, Krasinski's film reminds audiences just how much noise we make even without trying. Even something as gentle as a foot rustling in grass can be deafening when the rest of the world is absolutely still. And silence is tantamount in the world created in A Quiet Place, for even the softest whisper can get you and your loved ones eviscerated by creatures in wait.

The world is almost vacant, the human race almost decimated. Alien beings with hyper-sensitive hearing have slaughtered everyone. One family has survived because they could communicate through sign language -- their only daughter (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf. Mother (Emily Blunt), father (Krasinski) and their three children live on a farm in upstate New York. They sneak into their deserted town for resources, drugs, food etc. They think they've covered all their bases, made sure that everyone is safe, but 2 AA batteries become blood in the water for the family.

Krasinski turns the suspense on high, with several terrifying set pieces and makes every sound seem dangerous.  Something as ordinary as picking a pill container from a shelf becomes a hair-raising moment if any of the bottles should topple over. He concentrates the camera on potential dangers, like a nail sticking on a step-board or a birthing, and pounds the fear into the audience that something horrific is around the corner. The film has minimal gore but relies on shock, tautness, and cringe moments.

The script by Krasinski, Bryan Woods and Scott Beck wastes no time with exposition or flashbacks. The prologue takes place a few months after the attack and the rest of the film, a year and a half after day zero. There's no explanations of why or how, just a few clues in newspaper clippings. The unknown becomes a leading horror. There's no idea how many alien monsters exist, where they came from, or how to kill them, so the family is always in peril. Adding to the horror, the film centers purely on the family. Other than a random character or two, the family is the audiences' only focal point. There's not a bus of camp counselors with victim tattooed to their foreheads, just the family, in constant jeopardy.

There are a few stretches of the imagination. For the storyline, having a main character pregnant, where one cannot stop the noises of childbirth or control a baby's wails, only adds to the tension, however, it's hard to believe that the parents in this situation would have done everything up to wrapping each other's full bodies in condoms to not get pregnant while merciless creatures are on the warpath. Also, because the aliens' weakness is revealed to the audience way before the characters, the public has plenty of time to work out why the characters should have been a bit savvier in bringing down the monsters.

Without the performances, the movie would never work. Krasinski, Blunt and the children play their roles without irony. The pain on their face throughout the film gives the illusion the actors are as terrified as their characters. Because this family unit is the whole film, the two leads, married in real life, have built formidable relationships with Simmonds, Noah Jupe, and Cade Woodward, so that the bonds between them are undeniable.

Just like John William's seminal theme for Jaws, the score by Marco Beltrami warns the audience to hold tight to their neighbor's hand. Sounding like a fog horn over rattling tin, the music is simplistic but primal.

The creatures are reminiscent of Stan Winston's aliens from the space franchise, with spiderlike bodies and protruding teeth.  By adding pumpkin-like heads that glow and pull apart to reveal more teeth and ear drums that glow, the motion capture monsters feel fresh. 

Like last year's Oscar winner Jordan Peele, another comedy actor has emerged as a horror icon, someone not only carrying the torch but reinventing it.  John Krasinski's A Quiet Place is as startling as the early juggernauts of Steven Spielberg (Jaws), John Carpenter (Halloween), and Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre). It will be exciting to see what brave new world he invents next.

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