By Jim Slotek
The remarkably unsettling horror film A Quiet Place is an utterly unique cinema experience in many ways. For starters, you will never have heard so clearly the sound of a guy munching popcorn five rows behind you.
And you will probably never have vicariously imagined a carnivorous monster entering a theatre, sonar-locating such a person and eating them alive. (Or maybe you have).
A Quiet Place is effectively a silent movie, all-in from scene one on its premise, which is that human civilization has effectively fallen to an invasion of mostly-unseen toothy monsters - armoured, almost invisibly fast and apparently possessed of only one acute sense, hearing. Make any kind of noise, and you’re dead.
Are they aliens? Mutations? A genetic experiment gone wrong? A Quiet Place, directed and co-written by and co-starring John Krasinski (Jim on The Office) doesn’t just hold these cards, it keeps them in the box. This is a movie almost entirely without dialogue, so your clues are all visual: including fading newspaper headlines and a chalkboard in the protagonist’s workshop outlining their foes’ strengths and their possible survival approaches.
Happily (insofar as that word applies), there is one family that is uniquely suited to surviving in a silent world. Lee (Krasinski) and Evelyn (Emily Blunt, Krasinski’s offscreen spouse) are parents to Marcus (Noah Jupe) and the hearing-impaired Regan (Millicent Simmonds, the deaf actress who shone last year in Todd Hayne’s Wonderstruck). As such, the entire family is fluent in sign language, which is A Quiet Place’s lingua franca with subtitles.
The first shock comes in a very early scene. But it is not the movie’s handful of bangs that makes it unforgettable, but the unrelenting anticipation of same. And to be in a silent theatre (save for some ambient wilderness noise) filled with anxious people is a strange experience indeed.
It also makes you realize just how barraged with noise we are by the average movie, and how essentially empty that noise is. (“THX! The audience is listening!” No, they’re not. They’re numbed to the experience).
Even silent filmmakers, if you think about it, felt compelled to fill the theatre with music.
By contrast, A Quiet Place is a remarkable exercise in non-verbal storytelling. Kudos to Krasinski for having the integrity to not allow an opening scene-that-explains-it-all or cutting away to other people dishing out expositional dialogue in soundproof rooms. (There are a couple of scenes of dialogue, cannily of a piece with surroundings).
Instead, strictly though gesturing, emotions and sign language, a story is told in A Quiet Place with tragedy, resolve, fear, frustration, teenaged rebellion, mixed emotional signals between a loving father and a daughter, and good old fashioned MacGyvering in search of a weapon against this otherwise unstoppable force.
It speaks to the acting that this minimalism works so well. Simmonds is in a natural place, obviously, but her character must live with a trade-off – her sign language keeps everyone alive, but at the same time she is vulnerable to an inability to discern noise. She is believably frustrated, headstrong, haunted and angry, a rebel teen amid an insane reality.
Krasinski and Blunt, meanwhile, work together seamlessly as a couple with a single goal, to protect their family. The wordlessness strips this drive down to its furious essentials.
I believe every director, before being handed the keys to the noise-machine, should have to prove their storytelling chops with something as minimalist and powerful as A Quiet Place.
A Quiet Place. Directed by John Krasinski. Written by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and John Krasinski. Starring John Krasinski, Emily Blunt and Millicent Simmonds. Opens wide, Thursday, April 5.