You know what, I’ve noticed something. I try and watch a pretty broad spectrum of films where I can, I like to keep an open mind and try to focus on what’s out there at any given time. But you know what I’ve noticed? No matter how big the blockbuster, or how many awards a film has been nominated for, I never see a film with a full audience.
Unless, that is, the film is a horror movie. Seriously. The horror genre feels like its entering a mainstream golden age, with recent hits like IT (2017) taking the box office by storm. Likewise, A Quiet Place (2018) has taken social media by storm, and as I’m about to laboriously explain to you, with good reason.
The trouble with horror is, quite often, the tension the film is trying to relay to the audience depends on a certain amount of suspense. This in turn requires concentration and focus. Ironically, the last thing it needs is an audience of gurning simpletons munching on handfuls of popcorn every four seconds. Or giggling at someone beside them dropping their phone. Or TALKING.
The WORST thing is when someone is trying to be quietly, but is simply prolonging the act of opening the WORLD’S BIGGEST BAG OF SWEETS. Or (quietly) compressing a kilo of popcorn into ONE HANDFUL because apparently gently taking one piece at a time from the TOP of the bag would be WAY too much effort.
I wouldn’t normally bitch at the beginning of a blog, but the problem is when you’re dealing with a film that depends on long stretches of silence, with very soft dialogue and a growing sense of creeping tension it’s hard not to notice. You know, films like the outstanding A Quiet Place.
Your father will always protect you.
Written and directed by John Krasinski (with additional writing credits going to Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, who developed the original story), A Quiet Place opens in a desolate world. The year is 2020, and the world appears abandoned. Amongst the dusty, empty shops, is the Abbott family. There’s the youngest, Beau (Cade Woodward), his deaf sister Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe), and finally their mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and father, Lee (John Krasinski).
As the family scavenge for medical supplies, Beau finds a space shuttle toy and is keen to keep it. Spotting this, Lee urgently takes the toy away – explaining in sign language that it’s far too loud to keep after delicately disarming it of its batteries. Setting out on the long walk home, Lee and Evelyn lead the march, tracking back their steps on a pre-prepared path of sand to mask their footsteps. Before they leave, though, Regan sees that Beau is upset not to keep his toy, so hands the battery-free space shuttle back to him. What she doesn’t see, however, is that he also picks up the batteries as he leaves.
What follows should not be a shock to anyone, as it was heavily covered in the trailers. As the family make their way home, Beau stops to examine his toy. He turns it in his hands and, whether mistakeningly or not, switches it on. At once, the silent scene is erupted into noise and light as the space shuttle roars with sound effects. Regan, unable to hear this, looks up to see Lee running back in panic to try and save his youngest son.
But he is too late. From the trees, a dark, inhuman shape tears through the leaves, and before Lee can get close – slices into its prey.
We catch up with the family a year later, and all seems well. Living on farmland that seems far too large to be manageable without the use of farm equipment, the Abbotts live a fairly idyllic existence. Each member of the family pull their weight, doing their bit but remaining deadly silent at all times, for fear of he creatures descending from the dark. From his basement batcave, Lee continues to try and reach the outside world with salvage radio systems, while monitoring the homestead with CCTV and, when possible, working on repairing Regan’s cochlear implant, despite it constantly failing.
While all seems well, tension remains over the death of Beau, with each member of the family displaying grief and guilt at their loss. The tension has driven a clear wedge between Regan and Lee, in particular.
Things come to a head when Lee takes a reluctant Marcus off the farm to go fishing, leaving Regan with Evelyn, who is now heavily pregnant. Frustrated at her father dismissing her again, Regan takes off to visit Beau’s grave, leaving Evelyn at home, alone.
Despite the constant reminders of the creatures in the shadows, referred to as ‘the Dark Angels’ who were seemingly invulnerable to all methods of attack, it is around here that we are introduced to the major antagonist of the picture.
A single nail.
While doing the laundry, Evelyn heads upstairs from the basement when her washing bag snags on something. She pulls it free, but unbeknownst to her, leaves a bare nail jutting up from the staircase. You want to keep your eyes on this nail.
Later, while Evelyn is visiting Beau’s empty bedroom, she feels something. She looks down as a small pool of water drips from her body. She’s giving birth. Immediately heading downstairs to the basement to prepare a warning, Evelyn meets the bad guy. Specifically, her foot meets it. In a perfect moment of utter, agonising terror, Evelyn places her foot on the nail, and the entire audience squealed in disgust.
Dropping what she’s holding with a smash, and desperately close to letting out a scream, Evelyn becomes the target to the Dark Angels. As the creatures swoop in to the house, will Evelyn survive the ordeal – while in the process of giving birth? Will Lee and Marcus return home in time? Will Regan finally receive the love she craves from her father? And, most importantly of all, will anybody cover that damn nail?
Watch this film.
I really can’t say it any clearer than that – as a horror film, this works on several levels. I’ve often been called out on my snobbish attitude to ‘jump scares’ in horror films, particularly when people moan about a horror ‘not being jumpy enough’. A Quiet Place strikes a tremendous balance between what I consider true horror, in that it places its characters in true jeopardy, with a growing, creeping tension that is punctuated by sudden moments of action.
Yes, there are ‘jump scares’ – but they are not the focus of the film. The actual effect is that, in a world where there is no noise beyond the flowing of a stream or the odd whistle of the wind, any noise is a jump scare. Everything is turned up to 11, making the simple action of walking on a creaky wooden floor an arse-clenching tough watch.
This is in a huge part thanks to the performances of the cast, who manage to convey their wishes, feelings and emotions with virtually no dialogue. Shared looks, body language and genuine personality shine through and connect the characters to the audience. In particular, it’s no surprise than Krasinski and Blunt are married in real life, as their chemistry absolutely came across on screen. That said, the characters are fairly shallow – only really presenting cliche family roles, though in this context this only works in the film’s favour.
Beyond this, A Quiet Place has an extremely timeless feeling to it. Technology feels outdated, but functional, while the creature design – when we do finally see it – plays on a cross between the Cloverfield monster and the demogorgan of Stranger Things fame.I’m sure the effects will look awful in twenty years, but for now they look great.
What’s more, I don’t think I can recall a more satisfying third act in a mainstream film for some time. This is an absolute must watch, and a real wake up call for me to check out more of John Krasinski’s work.
Yours, A P Tyler