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A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place

You're trying to have a soothing bath and have a baby
at the same time, and some lousy bastard tries to kill you,
it's so not fair

dir: John Krasinski

2018

I kinda avoided seeing this at the time, and I regret it now, because it’s one of the better horror flicks I’ve seen in recent memory. And its sequel, which was about to be released now before the Coronapocalypse happened, might never see the light of day in a cinema, so there’s that, I guess.

I’m not sure that it’s the novelty of the premise, because it’s not that novel, or the complexity of the scenario, but whatever it is, the elements cohere and make this quite a terrifying / exhausting experience.

The enemy in this premise is some kind of monstrous creature. Don’t know where it came from, and it doesn’t really matter. These creatures are big, insect-like, covered in armour plating and they are blind. They are blind but they have exquisitely powerful hearing. So whatever happened in the initial stages of this invasion, the survivors know not to make noise by now.

Kids. It’s hard to convince small children about how serious a serious situation is. Very young boys in particular. One could almost say they’re pretty dumb, but that’s unfair. After the disaster strikes, and we start following one group of survivors, who happen to be a family, we see a boy wanting more than anything else, a space shuttle toy with flashing lights and whizz bang sounds. Despite understanding that Noise Equals Death in their brave new world, the boy don’t care, he wants his toy.

The family absolutely freak out, stop him from doing the inevitable, then take the batteries out of the toy, and admonish him not to get all of them killed.

Still, what’s a little idiot going to do other than the most obvious thing possible?

In a moment that emphasises to us that despite the fact that most of our protagonists are kids in a family, that no-one is safe, anyone can die, and the creatures hate everyone equally. It’s a gutting introduction into what this family (and we the viewers) are going to endure for the next hour and a half.

It makes for a very tense premise. They’re all not just tense when the creatures are around – they are constantly on guard, always trying to make the least amount of sound possible. The family recovers from what happened, but what happened reverberates throughout the family and within each character. They all feel a measure of guilt, or like they should have done something different in order to save their youngest.

The creatures are merciless, and aren’t motivated by anything other than a hatred of sound. Either that or they’re really hungry all the time. And they hate sound, so they get to combine their hatred of sound with their love of eating people.

One member of the family is deaf, so the family has a natural advantage in terms of knowing how to communicate without words with each other, and a natural disadvantage in that one of them probably can’t hear the approach of danger. So for most of the flick they’re doing sign and whispering to each other. The daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) feels the most guilt over her little brother’s death, and she feels that her dad kinda hates her for it. The dad (John Krasinski, who also directs) doesn’t blame her, he blames himself, and constantly keeps trying to engineer a working hearing aid in order to safeguard his daughter. You would think that a person who can’t hear anything might not know how much noise they produce, and wouldn’t be able to hear the enemy when they’re close.

And the film never addresses the delicate topic of survival in this fraught hellscape when it comes to farting – like – will it get you killed, or do the creatures give you a pass based on, I dunno, because it’s bass-heavy or something?

The first thing you notice after the opening bit, and the jump forward of hundreds of days, is that the family seems to have set up routines and strategies to protect themselves from making too much noise, hence long paths of sand that probably minimises the sounds of their footsteps, and they have a plan for the future. But the mum (Emily Blunt) is heavily pregnant, and you think, well how the heck are you going to convince a baby not to make any sound after it’s born, or, how are you going to give birth without triggering the monsters?

Well, they’ve thought about this too. So when I say it’s ill-advised, I mean, sure, it’s not a great idea, but they’ve had months to think about what they’re going to do, and even if the ideas aren’t totally sound, at least they’ve put a lot of thought and resources into it.

Frankly, bringing a baby into this world seems like the absolute dumbest thing they can do, because one moment of noise can, we’re given the strong impression again and again, get them all killed. But they have guilt to expiate, and a child to replace, so they have to do what they have to do.

And that’s also the thing about having meticulous plans and strategies and systems in place – everything can be undone by something as seeming harmless as a nail in a basement floor board, pulled up by a stray thread, and turned into the most weaponised version of Chekov’s gun that you’ll ever see but not hear. The second you see the nail upturned, you’re counting the seconds until someone steps on it. It’s like a ticking time bomb, except way funnier.

We don’t really see other humans, except in one brief scene where the person isn’t really around for very long, or certainly not long enough to say or do anything memorable. The dad of the family has been trying to communicate with other people, using a HAM radio, leaving messages at places, but hasn’t had any luck so far. So we really don’t know if all of humanity has been wiped out except for this one family of rugged sign language enthusiasts and survivalists, or not.

Much later on, when things start getting progressively worse, the mum starts saying, almost out of nowhere to the husband, again burdened by guilt over the one they lost, that the dad has to do whatever he can to save the remaining kids. Absolutely has to. There’s no two ways about it: surely he was just going to let the other kids die, despite everything he’s been doing to keep everyone safe, but then she made her little speech, and he thought “Oh, okay, won’t let them die, check.”

It was then that I knew beyond the inevitability of someone standing on that upturned nail, that the dad was going to have to sacrifice himself in order to save the kids. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, or of any other possibility, that man was marked for a noble death.

But it’s okay. He’d done everything he could to prepare them, which is all any parent can hope for, so that they’d have things in place if he checked out, or if he wandered off and maybe started a new family with less needy people, who knows?

Yes, it’s exhausting but I would argue it’s worthwhile. Our primary fantasies around who we are as parents and people is that we’ll do anything for our families, down to dying in order to save them. Ordinarily, this isn’t an itch that gets scratched much, outside of war time and viral plagues. The movies craft this impulse, this bullshit fantasy in such a way that it’s clear cut and meaningful, virtually every time. The big moment comes, you do the noble sacrifice, your family lives and everyone thinks you’re a legend, and they tear up every time they think of you.

I usually recoil at that kind of thing, because it can go too far and fester into Dad fantasies like Taken where a father gets to torture and kill a legion of foreigners in order to save his daughter. But here it’s handled pretty well. The complexity of the situation, the implacability of the enemy, and the unique workarounds they require lead to different ways of doing things, which is all I ever ask.

Everyone does a good job. The kids are plagued with guilt and do the sensible thing most of the time, but also believably make decisions like kids would. Krasinski does as well behind the camera as he does in front of it. He and Emily Blunt make a believable mama bear and papa bear couple, which must be a tremendous feat of acting for them, happily married as we hope they are.

It's very well filmed, which sounds like an odd thing to say, but since you can’t rely on people yelling at each other in this kind of environment, the camera has to do a lot of different work to keep things comprehensible and tense. The shot choices are excellent.

They make everything seem plausible, even if it’s an unbelievable premise, and that goes the longest way to making it all seem like something worthy of our time. I mean, it’s not really plausible, but they convince us that it is. No-one with any sense would think having a baby at such a time could possibly work. Come on. All the protections in the world wouldn’t save them, and would guarantee they all die horrible deaths. But how else to up the ante to almost unbearable levels? How else to create a scenario where a character has to give birth without making a sound?

A Quiet Place is a sterling example of what you can create with a killer premise and a careful approach to everything. Think it through, plan it out, and terrify everyone with a family that wonders just how far they’d go to protect them.

Who knows when the new film will come out now when we’re all cowering in our own bunkers dreading the approach of a fucking virus, but either way I look forward to seeing where they go next.

As long as they do it quietly.

9 times I’d be dead in the first in the first hour in this scenario blurting out “what the fuck is that thing?” out of 10

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“Your father will protect you. Your father will always protect you.” – that doesn’t sound creepy or ominous, not at all – A Quiet Place

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