A Quiet Place – movie review

by James Robins / 16 April, 2018

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Silent horror A Quiet Place achieves pure tension – until they finally find the volume knob.

A Quiet Place carries a strict imperative: do not talk. Do not make a sound.

The instruction serves two functions. First, as a guide to the film’s action. The family at the centre of this horror picture cannot utter a peep because the planet has been decimated by a swarm of mysterious, fast-moving aliens who cannot see or smell. They hunt by sound alone.

Second, it’s a command to the audience. For moviegoers, this is commonplace – or at least should be. But in this case, it binds us to the film with a sense of apprehension, both of the coming frights and scares and the startling thought that we’re about to experience something truly audacious: a story told without spoken language, score, or effects – left only with diegetic noise and constantly bated breath.

Its first scenes artfully establish the heightened mood and paranoid tone. The family – composed of the film’s writer-director John Krasinski, his real-life wife Emily Blunt, and three children – tiptoe to a nearby town for supplies. The venture ends in violence, after one of the kids plays with a noisy toy. No dialogue, no music, no screams. Pure tension.

And then, sadly, the pretence is lost. The score – a menacing glissando now so common as to be tedious – starts up, shattering the illusion. There are entire full-volume conversations too. The defining conceit falls apart calamitously not long after; witness the strange hilarity of characters warning each other against danger by pushing a finger to their lips, as if this hadn’t already been said, so to speak.

There are, to be sure, moments of cleverness. One daughter is hearing-impaired (as is Millicent Simmonds, the actor who plays her). A muffled din swamps her perspective. Elsewhere, one standout sequence skilfully builds actions on consequences to achieve an otherwise absent degree of strain.

Fundamentally, though, the end product is a fairly ordinary horror picture of the Large Sudden Monster variety. Above all, there is a sense of lost opportunity. Krasinski could’ve made something truly ambitious and radical in A Quiet Place: the first ever non-silent silent movie.

Video: Paramount Pictures

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★★1/2

This article was first published in the April 21, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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