Horror can be a dour genre. The majority of the macabre tales that fill our local cinemas deal with a heavy subject matter, filled with murder and mayhem. It is easy for a filmmaker to get bogged down in that sinking dread. This is why levity is so important in horror cinema; it allows for the audience to breath in between scares, to reset their expectations and reenergize for the next spook around the corner. This levity is sorely missing in A QUIET PLACE.

It’s crazy that a lack levity is one of the issues in John Krasinski’s A QUIET PLACE. Krasinski, known primarily for his role of Jim in THE OFFICE, takes this tale of monsters that hunt by sound and makes it bleak as humanly possible. A QUIET PLACE follows an unnamed family, with the patriarch played by Krasinski himself, and the matriarch played by his real-life wife, Emily Blunt. Relative newcomers Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds play the two children.

This family finds themselves surviving a world where they must remain absolutely silent, lest they become hunted by an auditory-based alien creature that roams the woods. The concept is unique (discounting the BLIND DEAD series, which you never should), and lends itself to experimental cinema, as the film is nearly completely silent (except for the smothering score, but we’ll come back to that).

After an intense inciting incident, A QUIET PLACE picks up with the family living on a farm, a year after the supposed outbreak. Blunt’s character is pregnant, and it is this plot point that carries us through the rest of the narrative. Disappointingly, this setup leads us into a murky plot of nihilism and questionable choices.

A Quiet Place’s Folly

A QUIET PLACE that wants to be two different things; a bleak post-apocalyptic tale of survival, and a fun creature feature romp. Krasinski directs himself and his actors to play their roles as if they are attempting to survive through a Cormac McCarthy novel. Every (silent) line is somber and filled with ethos. The family is both tightly knit, and falling apart at the seams.

Krasinski, a man who made a career out of being infectiously charismatic, is stubbornly dour here. His gaze, set to horizon, is always filled with a withered empathy. His try-hard seriousness is only magnified whenever he is on screen with his wife, as her performance is effortless (she is Emily goddamn Blunt here), making his appearance all that more wooden. I expect that Krasinski squirmed in his seat when a supposed dramatic line read from him brought a room full of laughs.

A Quiet Place
Emily “G.D.” Blunt.

This seriousness might have worked if it wasn’t for those damned monsters. These creatures don’t lurk in the shadows.  ILM made these things, so they’re getting their money’s worth. The monsters linger in full light, especially in the 3rd act. While they are impressively made, they are in complete contrast to the rest A QUIET PLACE.

They would work like gangbusters in a great sci-fi action film like ALIENS or PREDATOR. But here, they butt heads with the dramatic story Krasinski is attempting to tell. This is even more apparent in the fist-pumping finale, which completely contradicts the tone Krasinski had built. It is a fun way to exit the film but doesn’t fit with everything that came before it.

Suffocating Score

Speaking of things that betray A QUIET PLACE, the score becomes a suffocating blanket over the film. Marco Beltrami, who is both a horror and cinema icon, gives us a score that is almost constant in its pursuit of tension building. It isn’t a bad score since that isn’t how Marco rolls; but, it is used in such a blockheaded way that it actually takes away from the scares.

It is a film that is built on silence, and the existential dread that can come from it. Instead, each tension building moment is set to a loud, brash soundtrack. Scares that could have been great and unpredictable are instead telegraphed to us by a soundtrack that screams “start getting scared.”

Head Scratching Choices

While Krasinski takes some of the blame, it’s the writing where the true head-scratching decisions exist. Bryan Woods and Scott Beck have created an interesting script in A QUIET PLACE, but there are questionable decisions throughout. The pregnancy, while a good reflection of sustained humanity, also becomes questionable through some basic math skills, leading some viewers to go “Wait, that soon?”

A Quiet Place
John Krasinski, searching for a snowball packin’ Dwight.

The worst sin of the script was the “lightbulb” moment leading into the 3rd act. The reveal of seemingly indestructible creatures weakness is groan-inducing. It completely spits in the idea of a functioning military/government/society that should have discovered this “weakness” day one. I don’t want to delve too deep, but you’ll probably realize the weakness by the start of the 2nd act.

This wasn’t a film that needed to have a “save the world moment.” Up to that point, we had just watched a family looking to survive. By the end, they are ready to take back the Earf (Will Smith pronunciation intended). It comes back to the tonal dissonance of A QUIET PLACE, that wants to both have its grime cake, but also eat it bombastically.

The Good With The Bad

That isn’t to say A QUIET PLACE is bad. Krasinski is able to direct an oppressive, yet tame, horror film. Not only that, but he is able to make a film filled with only ASL and subtitles that is engaging and interesting. At no point did I find myself bored. An impressive feat where entire sections have only the diegetic sounds of feet walking and hands moving through sign.

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The child actors are also exactly as they should be; fine. Neither of them steals the show, but they also don’t become grating, as child actors usually do. It’s especially hard when they interact with adults, as there’s usually a dissonance in the acting ability between the ages. But, Krasinski is able to keep these kids on track and have them both put in respectable performances.

In Conclusion…

Listen, I know I’m in the minority. The crowd seemed to go absolutely crazy for this one on opening night. The majority of the reviews have been favorable, some sites calling it a “genre all-timer.” The guy who sat next to me told me it was the most anxious he’s ever been.

It is also clear that Krasinski is a talented director, who was able to wrangle strong performances from a wonky script. With more work on tone consistency, Krasinski is only a film or two away from making something great.

Overall, the film fell flat for me.  It wanted to to be both THE ROAD and a CLOVERFIELD film. We shall see what the consensus is when A QUIET PLACE goes wide April 6th.

One Comment

  1. Olaf Lesniak

    April 14, 2018 at 4:30 pm

    You’re drunk. Go home. JK. I respect your opinion, but you’re drunk.

    Reply

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