A Quiet Place (2018)

Directed by John Krasinski

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A Quiet Place was quite the buzzed about movie for a little while there, and it only took me about half a year to catch up.  I avoided the movie in theaters because, frankly, I’m terrible at watching horror movies.  Every jump scare terrifies me, and this movie about deadly blind creatures who feed on loud people promised a lot of jump scares.  And there were a lot.

So those moments did work on me, but that’s not a very difficult thing to do.  The worst horror movies still terrify me, but the best ones do it on multiple levels.  I found A Quiet Place to be a little frustrating, underwhelming and inane.  It’s the premise and visual aesthetic which makes the movie interesting, but it lacks so much in terms of story, character development and even in its own internal logic.  It’s a movie I think works a lot better in theaters, where the silence is more amplified, so perhaps it’s because I saw it on a laptop which negated much of the impact.  Still, a movie should work textually, even when you take away the cheap thrills.

I’m not exactly sure where to start, but I found the story frustrating mainly because there was no real plot.  A family with two children lives on a farm in a post-apocalyptic world where monsters lurk about.  In order to stay alive, the family must be as silent as possible because the slightest sound will mean certain death.  We know this because of the premise, but there’s also a strange opening scene which shows us how another of their children, a young boy, was killed, just to drive the point home.

So they just exist.  The couple is played by real life husband and wife John Krasinski and Emily Blunt.  She’s pregnant, and he has a beard.

We know right off the bat that a baby in a world in which silence means life is a bad idea.  I will tell you, however, that this is the quietest damn baby I’ve ever seen, and it’s only that way because the story needs the baby to be quiet to keep going.  If the baby cries, they die, and the baby was never breastfed in the first 24 hours of its life, so it better be crying, which it wasn’t.

Okay, that’s not until about halfway into the movie.  The first half concerns a forced subplot about the daughter (who is deaf) feeling like she contributed to her brother’s death (by giving him a toy that makes noise) and thus that her father doesn’t love her.  This will run throughout most of the movie, but it’s frustrating because we know her father loves her, so when it’s revealed to her that he does in the end of the movie, there is not much emotional resonance.  From her angle it’s cathartic, tragic, etc. but from my angle it was redundant.

The plot of the movie, well again there really isn’t any.  It’s just a normal day for the Halperts, but a series of recurring blunders put them in danger.  There are so many blunders, in fact, that you wonder how in the hell they’ve survived these monsters for over a year.  It’s not that the circumstances become more grave or the monsters close in on them as much as they stumble, make a noise and then hide out for a bit.

The baby will be born halfway into the movie in the most thrilling but still uneven sequence of the movie.  Blunt is pretty great, and the simple terror of stepping barefoot on a loose nail is enough to put me on edge.

After the baby is born, and again without being breastfed, the movie just seemed to spiral out of control.  The kids get separated, but it’s a problem that shouldn’t be a problem.  They have a plan in place, at least this is implied, and really they just seem like they should be prepared for things to go wrong in such a world, but the slightest misstep is disastrous.  I’m a little scatter brained right now because I just got back from a Carnival Cruise, which is like if you put Reno, Nevada on a boat.  It’s also like the Titanic but with more back tattoos and plastic.  So the characters of A Quiet Place live in a world where you have to have every part of your life perfectly calibrated just to survive.  This also means that they have a series of precautionary steps in place and emergency plans for when things go wrong, as they inevitably will.  But over the course of the movie, when something goes wrong, they seem completely unprepared to deal with it.  And again, Blunt’s expecting a baby, so they should be on HIGH ALERT.  Instead, the day she has the baby, Jim Halpert isn’t even back until well after nightfall.  Dude, your wife’s expecting a baby, and when you’re gone you have no way of communicating, so just make sure you’re kind of in the vicinity.

Some of the thrills work in this movie, and if this were just a B movie then that might be enough.  The problem I had was that A Quiet Place insists on the emotional aspect of the story.  It insists you love its characters and relate to their interpersonal conflicts.  That means we have to really give a sh*t about the daughter feeling unloved by her father, thinking he blames her for her brother’s death.  That’s extremely heavy, and it might work as a story arc if we believed her father didn’t love her.  But that means the father should be played by a much more mysterious, enigmatic type like Michael Shannon or maybe Joel Edgerton (who was great in another post-apocalyptic movie, It Comes At Night).  As it is he’s JIM FROM THE OFFICE, a character many people love and see as harmless, charming and just an all around nice dude.

So it’s hard to buy into the daughter’s story because we know how untrue it is.  Then, near the end of the movie, Jim Halpert does something that’s meant to feel– okay he sacrifices himself, that’s what he does.  It’s supposed to demonstrate to his daughter that he loves her, but instead the moment is just kind of weird.  All I could think was that he didn’t really need to die.  It was yet another situation where it felt like there was surely another way out, one that was less disastrous.

Eventually the daughter will realize that her hearing aid paralyzes the monsters, but we learn this well before it becomes useful in the plot.  Instead of surprising us at the end and saving the day, we’re just waiting for her to learn what we already know, so the reveal isn’t very exciting.

The movie is appealing in terms of premise and aesthetic.  Visually it looks great, and some of the sound design is great too.  Still, for a movie built on silence it’s actually not all that silent.  I kept hearing about how silent it was, and I expected there might be no score, just the occasional sounds of the world, and that excited me.  Instead there is a familiar horror score, one that is occasionally poured on a little too thick and results in a series of jump scares that you see in every horror movie these days.  It’s a cheap trick which often works (at least on me) but which doesn’t require a whole lot of effort.

Also, we learn that they can just hide by blending in with louder environments, like the area near a waterfall, so why don’t the Halperts just move to a new location that gives them more flexibility to communicate verbally?  At the very least it gives them some more leeway.

Up Next: The Match Factory Girl (1990), The Running Man (1987), The Death of Stalin (2017)

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