TL;DR
  • A unique horror film; mature and well-filmed without copious amounts of gore and cheap jump scares
  • Engaging horror concept
  • Simple story with family at its core
  • Exceptional use of sound
  • Not scary, but very tense and suspenseful
  • Well-acted considering lack of lines

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The horror genre is a tricky one to get right. All too often horror films are sub-par, a sick parody of its own genre, pandering to the lowest common denominator with copious and unnecessary amounts of gore and cheap, poorly filmed jump-scares – not to mention the countless sequels (how many Saw and Friday 13thfilms are there now?). Sad as that may be, there is a silver lining; namely, in a genre saturated with bad films, whenever there is a genuinely decent, different one, it gets the appropriate attention and praise it deserves. Recently we got Get Out – a different, unique horror film that audiences and critics alike adored, partly due to its strength and partly because it stood out in an otherwise iffy genre. Now we have A Quiet Place – while it may be wildly different to Get Out (in terms of plot and scares to name just a few), it is comparable in how it seems to have made a splash, bringing in a large audience and receiving universal praise and adoration. Indeed, I think it’s fair to say that we haven’t seen suspense like this in a film since the Master of Suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock.

Set just a few months after some apparently terrible life-changing event, the film opens on a very different world to the noisy, bustling one we know today. Whereas we have constant buses and people shouting down their phones, music blaring from earphones, now there is nothing, save for the breeze through the trees, the trickle of a river and the faint pattering of bare feet, a small family desperate to survive, led by pregnant mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and father Lee (John Krasinski) with children Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward). As the film progresses, we assume that the Earth is now home to blood-thirsty, dangerous monsters (or perhaps aliens?) who, though they may be blind, have exceptional hearing and will hunt down anything or anyone who makes a sound (similar to cross-breeding a bat with a Xenomorph from Alien). We live with the family, joining them in their silent, but busy day-to-day life. But with Evelyn’s due date fast approaching, nerves are at an all time high. How will they keep everything quiet with a baby on the way?

The story itself is very simple with its core concept being the main driving force. While it may not be the most original concept (monsters in videogames love being blind but sensitive to sound; from Until Dawn to the clickers in The Last of Us), it’s done exceptionally well and completely sells the concept to the audience with its commitment being absolute. The first part of the film is noteworthy for its detail, showing us the fascinating intricate workings of a life spent in total silence, each and every character consistently tense and aware, waiting for things to go wrong. And, as is inevitable in a horror film, when things do eventually go wrong, it’s incredible how tense and exciting the climactic final act is. It may not be scary, but it’s hard to think of many films that have mastered suspense and tension like this.

The use of sound is exceptional and really well done. It’s almost a shame it didn’t come out sooner; at least an Oscar nomination would have been likely. This is proof that cinema is not just a visual medium and that what we hear can be just as potent as what we see. If anything, hearing but not seeing is sometimes more powerful, raising tension and letting our imagination do the work. From foley to music, the sound (or occasionally the lack of) is the main ‘character’ and reason for seeing the film, making it so unique. The music from Marco Beltrami in particular is worthy of note, always quiet and understated, used to punctuate the film well, make it more dramatic, but never detracting from the power of silence. Still, with sound and silence being so important, it’s tricky to know how to recommend watching this film; you really do need the immersion that a cinema provides, but there’s no feasible way to control coughs, sniffs and the noisiest culprit of all, popcorn. Maybe it’s best to win the lottery and have you own private home cinema.

The cast does a decent job considering the remarkable lack of lines, relying instead on complete physical acting. This is particularly impressive for relative newcomer Millicent Simmonds and another excellent title to put on Noah Jupe’s filmography. The chemistry between real-life couple Emily Blunt and John Krasinski comes through and helps strengthen their on-screen relationship with a strong, believable romance. The only issue is, without many lines, it’s difficult to craft unique, special characters and to know them intimately. But the tension between Regan and Lee is the aspect that stands out best, really selling the central theme of family.

A Quiet Place is a special, unique horror that shows what can be achieved by this genre when it’s not pandering to the lowest common denominator. With an engaging concept and impressive physical acting by the cast, it’s a small, intimate film with huge tension. Hitchcock may have been the master of suspense, but sound hasn’t been used this strongly before. Is this the year’s best horror already?

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