A Quiet Place first published by Little White Lies
In Guy Maddin’s 1992 retro-surrealist Alpine melodrama Careful, the expression of any emotion risks bringing an avalanche down on the mountain town of Tolzbad, and so all the locals must repress their desires or face the deadly consequences. John Krasinksi’s A Quiet Place might seem a million miles from this – after all, it has an American rural location, it is set a couple of years in the future rather than in a cine-nostalgic past, and its genre is determinedly horror – but nonetheless there are certain similarities. For here too, feelings (of love and loss, of guilt and recrimination) have necessarily remained unspoken, resulting in division and dysfunction.
A Quiet Place opens with the caption ‘Day 89’ – although from what exactly is left for the viewer to discover without the aid of oral exposition, as couple Evelyn and Lee Abbott (real-life couple Emily Blunt and Krasinski) and their three children – Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe) and the youngest, Beau (Cade Woodward) – move barefoot and every so quietly through a ghost town in search of medicine. If they communicate at all, it is through the sign language that they all know because Regan is deaf-mute. When, on the way home, four-year-old Beau activates a noisy toy, he is almost instantly snatched and killed before all their eyes by a creature that gallops out from the forest, attracted to the sound. This is an apocalyptic scenario, where exquisitely realised alien monsters, blind but with extremely sensitive hearing, relentlessly hunt their prey, listening out for the slightest auditory trace.
Cut to Day 473, and the rest of the Abbotts are surviving in grief and silence. As well as constructing their lives to stay safe from the creatures, they also tiptoe around each other’s emotions, with Regan silently blaming herself for Beau’s death, and Lee awkwardly communicating his love for his daughter by constantly trying to build her a working hearing aid that she keeps rejecting. Evelyn is expecting a baby very soon, which, though an investment in the future, practically guarantees that things are about to get perilously loud – and with no vulnerabilities yet apparent in the snarling predators, it takes just a single noise to put everyone’s life in danger.
The action of A Quiet Place plays out in a similar – and similarly tense – cat-and-mouse mode to Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe (2016), as characters must avoid making any sound no matter what they are enduring (from grievous injuries to absolute terror even to giving birth). What is different here, though, is that the Abbotts are not petty criminals, but members of a family, each defined by their individual willingness to undertake personal risk to help the others. Accordingly, although this clan is at first beleaguered by its own inner tensions, it eventually comes together against an implacable external foe. Presenting the domestic unit and protective parenting as crucial salves in times of despair, Krasinski finds room for sentiment, even optimism, amid this avalanche of toothy suspense thrills.
Enjoyment: Tense monster apocalypse, with all the (muted) feels,
In Retrospect: Big teeth, but little to digest afterwards.
© Anton Bitel