Film & Television

‘A Quiet Place’, where silence means survival

By Harry Windsor

John Krasinski’s latest film summons terror from the everyday

© 2017 Paramount Pictures.

A Quiet Place ingeniously generates suspense out of the everyday: walking down the stairs, playing a board game, the birth of a child. Director-star John Krasinski and his real-life wife, Emily Blunt, play a couple – Lee and Evelyn Abbott – raising three kids on a farm somewhere north of New York. The eldest (Wonderstruck’s Millicent Simmonds) is deaf, and the family’s proficiency in sign language comes in handy after human civilisation is overrun by scuttling predators with no eyes but wickedly advanced hearing. A brutally effective prologue, in which the family ventures into town to forage for supplies in a long-abandoned supermarket, lays out the fundamental rule: silence or hurtling death.

The opening also ensures that we hold our breath for everything that follows. It’s tense any time a character so much as lifts an object – a lamp or a kettle – that might clatter loudly to the floor. Composer Marco Beltrami began his career with Scream and Mimic, and he effectively ratchets up the tension, though it’s possible the film would be even more anxiety inducing without any score at all.

The screenplay, credited to Krasinski and low-budget directing partners Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, doesn’t bother to fill in the background, with none of the characters hashing out the kind of expository questions they’d have canvassed long before the film begins. Where did the creatures come from? The only hint comes from newspaper headlines covering the wall of the basement, where Krasinski tinkers with a tower of old radios, trying to communicate with the outside world via Morse code. The new state of things is economically sketched in other ways, too. Beacons flash into life on distant hills after Krasinski lights a fire atop a grain silo: neighbours signalling that they’re still alive, but unable to really communicate.

Krasinski has retained the bulk and beard he acquired for 13 Hours (that film’s director, Michael Bay, is a producer here), and it suits him. He looks like a man who’d be brewing his own beer if he hadn’t been forced into the role of homesteader defending his patch. Most of the film takes place on the family’s property, though it’s not housebound. The farm consists of the main house, plus grain silos that loom over fields of corn at the back of the property, and a large shed at the bottom of a garden, ringed by fairy lights. Were it not for the nasties lurking in the woods, it’d be idyllic.

The whole thing recalls M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, only bloodier and more nerve shredding. Like Signs, A Quiet Place is about grief and overcoming recrimination, and both present water as humanity’s secret weapon. Krasinski takes his son (Suburbicon star Noah Jupe) to a local waterfall, loud enough to cloak their speech, and the boy reprimands him for not including his sister on the outing. The girl feels responsible for a tragedy that still haunts her parents, though her part in it was motivated by kindness.

The succession of imperilling circumstances piled on by the director can sometimes make this, his third film after 2009’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and 2016’s The Hollars, feel like a Road Runner cartoon. Protruding nails, flooding, despairing neighbours, the mewling of a newborn: all collude to keep the family near death at all times. The screenplay also contrives to split them up, and one of the film’s pleasures is the space it carves out for each member of the ensemble. While Krasinski gets his share of the heroics, it’s no preening star vehicle, with Blunt and Simmonds both carrying the film for long stretches, often in a series of silent, horrified close-ups courtesy of in-demand Danish cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen (The Hunt and Molly’s Game).

The helpless terror brought on by the impending arrival of the couple’s (un-shushable) baby is never discussed, but it goes into hyperdrive when Evelyn’s water breaks right before a home invasion. Temporary deliverance arrives in the form of fireworks. The characters refer to them as rockets, which are something of a motif throughout. One is drawn in crayon on the supermarket floor in the very first scene, and a toy space shuttle found there conjures doom rather than the romance of the stars. The status of the creatures as extraterrestrial is, for the family encircled by them, a moot point – surviving is all.

As a metaphor for the terrors of raising children, A Quiet Place suggests that childbirth might be hell, but what comes next is even worse. But it also condenses the child’s journey from ward to protector, in a climax that feels a little easy, and elicits giggles every time. Underdevelopment, in the end, triumphs.

Harry Windsor

Harry Windsor is a Sydney-based writer.

© 2017 Paramount Pictures.

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