Thursday, April 5, 2018

Silence Equals Life In 'A Quiet Place'

Shhhh...Be vewy, vewy quiet...

A Quiet Place has a gimmick almost worthy of a William Castle movie. Aliens have invaded Earth, and while they're fast and deadly, they're also completely blind and lacking in any kind olfactory gifts. But they can hear. And if they hear you, they will kill you. (I can just see Castle introducing the film, imploring audiences NOT...TO...SCREAM!)

With the above, I've given more exposition than the actual movie does, and that's a good thing. Co-writer, director, and star John Krasinski trusts the audience enough to thrust us right into the worst of this planet's new reality, opening with a title card that reads "89 Days After," and showing us a ghost town strewn with abandoned cars; walls plastered with "Missing" posters; a newspaper blowing in the wind, with a headline reading "IT'S SOUND!"; and one family, quietly wandering the aisles of a ransacked drug store, barefoot.

After a cruel lesson in just how important silence is in this new world, we jump ahead a year. Mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt) is now very pregnant. Together with dad Lee (John Krasinski, Blunt's real life husband ), they've created a silent haven farm, where their bare footsteps are muffled by carefully laid sand, Monopoly is played with soft tokens, not plastic, and dinner is eaten by hand on kale leaf plates.

They have a young son, Noah (Marcus Abbott), and a deaf, pre-teen daughter named Regan (beautifully played by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds, so good in last year's Wonderstruck). Their daughter gives the family a post-apocalyptic advantage: they can communicate with each other silently, using sign language.

While Reagn's deafness may seem like a deadly handicap--after all, she can never know how much noise she might be making, or if danger is sneaking up behind her--the film instead focuses on the advantages of her deafness, which is a nice change.

Krasinski, best known for his years playing Jim on The Office, has directed two previous films (Brief Interviews With Hideous Men and The Hollars), and nothing in that oeuvre would lead one to believe he'd have such a deft hand when it comes to horror. I was reminded of the surprise I felt after seeing last year's Get Out. Where'd these comedic actors get their horror chops? But really, it shouldn't come as a surprise; horror, like comedy, is all about timing.

In a movie where sound is the biggest threat, you can be sure there are plenty of jump scares. But Krasinski plays cleverly with the trope, so that while those sudden loud sounds will make you jump, that reaction is two-fold. It's the visceral reaction we all have to sudden loud sounds, paired with the knowledge that those sounds may mean imminent death to our heroes. (There's also a funny nod to the cliched "cat scare," using raccoons.)

At a taut 95 minutes, A Quiet Place doesn't waste time leading to a relentless climax that is both a series of worst case scenarios, and a birthing scene that would make Scientologists proud. Much of it is basically a silent film, and the film's greatest gift is its cast, who all give masterful silent performances. Blunt is able to make us laugh and cry using just her eyes, and Krasinki is a master of the silent take, having honed his "re-acting" on The Office, where silent looks at the camera said more than dialogue ever could. This is a horror movie where instead of wanting to scream at the characters for doing something dumb, you'll want to scream for them, since they can't.

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