As I mentioned last week, Spring seems to come now with a glut of horror movies meant for the more mainstream critical market – where Halloween is still where the schlock-horrors (ah, my first true loves) hang out, the first third of the year sees a lot of scary cinema on the prestige end of the scale hitting out screens (a trend kicked into high gear by the Oscar-nominated Get Out in 2017). And one of the most-buzzed entries into this year’s prestige horror list comes in the form of A Quiet Place, directed by and starring John Krasinski alongside Emily Blunt.
The premise is pleasingly simple: a family, led by father Lee Abbot (Krasinki) and his wife Evelyn (Blunt), as they try to protect their family and navigate through a world populated by monsters who hunt using sound. It’s a good, rich premise to build a movie off of, and I was surprised at how well it stretched – it seems like the kind of notion that’s going to wear thin pretty quickly (must as it does in 2016’s disappointing Don’t Breath, which also features a “if it can hear, it can kill you” premise). But A Quiet Place leans into the terror more than the horror, creating a ninety minutes that’s rife with grindingly relentless tension and inventiveness that constantly finds new ways for the characters to interact with the monsters and the world at large. Stripping the film of spoken dialogue (for the most part – there are a couple of scenes with conversation, with most of the interaction coming in the form of sign language) really lets Kransinki hone in on this blunt-force assault in tension-building, as you find yourself focusing on every single sound, every word, every breath. As a horror film, judging it purely by the scares, it works brilliantly. But A Quiet Place is much more than just an exercise in spooking it’s audience.
Because it’s an immensely tender movie as well. The four leads, with child actors Milicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe joining Blunt and Krasinski to fill out the family unit, find a fantastic chemistry amongst the raw tension on display, and the movie manages to land on the right side of pathos over cheese. Blunt and Jupe are the standouts here, but focusing in on the four characters gives every actor a time to shine and, in the golden age of child stars (just ask Big Little Lies and Stranger Things), there’s no better time to be featuring such challenging roles from such a young cast. To sell a story as high-concept as this one, you need to give us something recognisable and relatable to build it all around, and A Quiet Place nails that.
All great horror taps into some basic human fear – The Blair Witch Project spooked us with the primal discomfort about what lurks in the woods, Halloween with the subversion of the safe suburban street that many of it’s viewers recognised their own homes in, The Haunting of Hill House with the idea that we can’t trust our own minds not to betray us. And A Quiet Place falls firmly into that category. Starring real-life couple Kransinki and Blunt, it’s hard not to see this as a manifestation of nagging fears about failing, as a parent, to prepare your children for going out into the world at large; whether it’s a world populated by giant walking killer ears (okay, so the look of the monsters wasn’t my favourite thing about this film) or not, that’s the true horror at the centre of A Quiet Place. What if you can’t protect your children? What if you can’t preserve the sanctity and safety (both physical and emotional) of the family unit?
These big, emotional beats are whittled down to what can be communicated through a look, a touch, a movement, and it gives it a subtlety and an elegance that perfectly balances these big questions with the horror of the story at large. And it’s that, An unsettling horror premise matched with big yet intimately personal questions, that earns A Quiet Place the title of the horror movie to beat for 2018.
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(header image courtesy of The Verge)
By Louise MacGregor