A family must navigate their lives in silence to avoid mysterious creatures that hunt by sound. Knowing that even the slightest whisper or footstep can bring death, Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and Lee (John Krasinski) are determined to find a way to protect their children at all costs while they desperately search for a way to fight back. (From Paramount’s official synopsis)
Late ‘90s popular horror was defined by ironic and slick postmodern sensibilities. Post-millennial popular horror was defined by paranoia, raw violence, and throwbacks to the ‘70s. So far, the best of 2010s popular horror has been characterized by pertinent thematic material and fed by high concepts, all while continuing to recognize established genre tropes. I’d compare it to the horror of the ‘50s and ‘60s, but the filmmakers behind movies like The Babadook (2014), It Follows (2014), and The Witch (2015) dealt in localized crises, instead of mutant animals, alien invasions, and insect men. Still, these two eras do share an interest in apocalyptic scenarios and easily defined gimmicks. John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place (2018) isn’t the most thematically rich post-post-millennial horror movie, but it fits the bill on most levels. It’s driven by a fantastically cinematic gimmick (not the most original one, but that’s beside the point), it obsesses over the mechanics of post-apocalyptic life, and it holds fast to its high concept as an innovative means to put the audience on edge. Taken as a technical exercise, it elevates these simple pleasures with a handful of intense, very well-executed vignettes. Krasinski can’t completely ignore the siren call of cheap jump scares, but, when his entire movie is built around sound being a central indicator of danger, it’s hard to blame him.
Krasinski’s screenplay, which was co-written with Bryan Woods & Scott Beck (who are credited with the original story, as well) isn’t great. The bigger issue is its lazy dependence on well-worn character dynamics that, along with a lack of interesting thematic bite, makes it difficult to care about what is happening outside of the super-scary set-piece you happen to be watching at this exact moment. Everyone is defined by hackneyed traits and how they relate to the pre-credit sequence, in which the family’s youngest child dies. The teen feels responsible for her brother dying and acts resentfully, the dad is overprotective of his remaining kids, the younger son is fearful because he saw his brother die, and the mom is tasked with making another baby. The only real developments over the course of the film are that the dad sort of admits that he has resented the teen and that the boy overcomes some of his fear. I kept waiting the banal adherence to “traditional” gender roles to be subverted, but, unless I missed something, Emily Blunt’s character wasn’t literally barefoot & pregnant to serve a greater subtext or make a point – that was just the easiest way to write her (she eventually gets her badass moment, but it comes too way late).
Krasinski is taking a pretty typical approach to his actor-to-director transition, beginning with a pseudo-experimental indie, before moving on to a small character drama and, now, a genre piece. When done well, genre work – be it horror, science fiction, or action – requires a level of purely technical prowess that I assume many actors aren’t immediately comfortable with. I think that it’s important to acknowledge not only that A Quiet Place is incredibly well-directed, but that Krasinski’s skill set has improved a lot over the course of only three movies. I haven’t seen 2016’s The Hollars (audiences/critics seem to be lukewarm on it), but his first movie, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (2009), is a complete mess. I suspect he knows this and that A Quiet Place’s oversimplified characters may have been his attempt at course correction. Hopefully, next time, he can find a middle ground between purely character-driven and purely technically-driven exercises.
A Quiet Place was shot on 35mm film and is presented here in 2.40:1, 1080p video. Given how dark the film is, it’s a little surprising that Krasinski and cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen didn’t opt for digital, but their efforts worked, because there are few moments so dark that I couldn’t tell what was happening. There aren’t many obvious film-like artifacts – grain only really stands out in the neutral, stylishly foggy backgrounds – but the general softness and warmth is indicative of the format, as are the faint haloes that appear along contrasting wide-angle edges. Some of the plush textures may be a compression issue, but the element separation is strong and there aren’t issues with similar artifacts, like blocking or posterization. Black levels are rich without eating up too much fine detail or messing up layering. The palette is pretty consistently autumnal, but the warmth rarely overwhelms the more natural tones, nor does it limit the eclectic qualities of the daylight sequences.
A Quiet Place revolves around a noise-based gimmick and its sound design is, expectedly, a highlight. This Blu-ray comes loaded with a lively, super dynamic Dolby Atmos soundtrack, though this review will refer to the core Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix. As mentioned in the feature section, the wide range between utter silence and shattering noise is the most commonly exploited aural element, but the sound is also creatively implemented to impart tone, tension, and even emotions. The surround field is best utilized to convey the motion of the creatures and the locations of the sounds they’re chasing, but I found myself more taken with subjective representation of noise, such as the tender moment where Evelyn and Lee share a pair of earbuds in order to dance to Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.” Marco Beltrami’s score tends to communicate for the characters when they can’t and this can be a detriment. Fortunately, the filmmakers rarely tell us how we’re supposed to feel with the music and the spooky scare cues work wonderfully.
Creating the Quiet (14:45, HD) – A fluffy, but relatively informative behind-the-scenes featurette that includes interviews with the producers, writers, Krasinski, and cast, as well as some artfully shot footage from the set.
The Sound of Darkness: Editing Sound for A Quiet Place (11:44, HD) – The filmmakers discuss sound design, complete with comparisons between raw and post-production audio.
A Reason for Silence: The Visual Effects of A Quiet Place (7:33, HD) – A quick look at the creature design and executing the visual effects.
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