A QUIET PLACE: Where Fear Roars & Rouses
Assuming cinema etiquette is still alive, the loudest sound that can be heard among A Quiet Place’s audience will be their own semi-breathing.
“A quality Platinum Dunes film” is an oxymoron. For much of its existence, the horror-driven, Michael Bay-involved banner has done more to horrify us by defanging killer icons and debuting misguided ghouls — good grief, Jumby — rather than disrupting our slumber. It’s inevitable when there is a false equating of music-video sensibilities and “bombard with bombast” maxim — on both aural and visual fronts — as scare tactics.
Don’t let anyone tell you differently: Sound, when there or not at all, is how on-screen terrors find a way to take refuge in your dreams. What causes Platinum Dunes’ freaky repertoire to falter is a love for noise as opposed to sound, the refusal to let elements rest for fear of causing blood to un-curdle. Diminishing returns, the studio clearly doesn’t speak it. So it attempts to, in 2016 with Ouija: Origin of Evil, and discovers a trove of goodness: high critical scores and much viewer love. All first-time stuff.
Then A Quiet Place arrives. Who’s directing it, who’s in it and even what is it about come second to this need to know whether the winning streak can go beyond the Zanders’ 1967-set ordeal? The answer is yes. To be more precise, hell yes.
In the very near future — 2021 if calculations are correct — silence will evolve from golden to oxygen. Anything louder than a whisper is thunder, and lightning in the form of monsters will definitely strike. The Abbotts — husband Lee (John Krasinski), wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt), daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and sons Marcus (Noah Jupe) & Beau (Cade Woodward) — understand that well; their supply run among a hushed and overgrown world in the film’s opener is all signing, delicate mouthing, tip-toeing and treading on sandy trails. Life as they know it has changed for 89 days now, a helpful title card declares, and it’s been going well — until the homebound trip goes a bit different than usual when thunder is summoned.
Whatever is happening down at Platinum Dunes, it’d be in our best interest that it continues. From the film’s introduction alone, an understanding — perhaps valuing — of economy is apparent; zero excess in the drama, shock and most importantly eardrum-jeopardizing business means dread will permeate rather than hammer, to go under the skin by seeping in instead of gnawing at it.
Finally there’s acknowledgement that tension manifests best when our insides are the first to be disturbed, when our tendency to imagine the worst are the first to be activated. Only then, when the presence is present, in full view or otherwise, there’s the horror we have demanded to see. Despite what’s being projected is A Quiet Place, flashbacks to Cat People and Jaws, or the former then the latter, also prop up while the Abbotts unknowingly march toward trauma — and viewers toward the first of many well-staged episodes of soul-siphoning.
And similar to those classics, sound — the well-placed and well-employed kind — kick-starts this film’s campaign to distress. It’s definitely immaculate, and no wonder: Responsible for cultivating the soundscape (in other words, A Quiet Place’s central pillar) are Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn, the duo whose résumés include Transformers and Godzilla.
At its core, A Quiet Place is sound-driven horror, with a majority of the happenings bound to a single, dangerous and isolated setting. Krasinski‘s film is, personally, a twin to Alfonso Cuarón’s lost-in-space yarn, so much so that its pros and major con are identical — just more bound to Earth, obviously.
The major con is what’s worth dissecting here. Other than scrambling heartbeats — save for two jump scares, it’s all extended periods of delicious suspense with no escape route in sight (a personal favorite includes an indoor version of The Lost World‘s waterfall scene) — Krasinski also tries to move the film beyond its genre boundaries. It’s a dig for more narrative or character depth, but being an exercise with restricted scope the result won’t be substantial no matter how much the director tries. Still, a look past the dearth — or, for some, the anger stemming from said dearth — is necessary as Blunt and Krasinski‘s graceful expressiveness during and after every elemental trial is hypnotic, not unlike Sandra Bullock‘s Dr. Ryan Stone.
But limited character work aside, at least some investment is seen. For anything pre-Ouija: Origin of Evil, the men and women in a Platinum Dunes-supervised world are photogenic fodder for scary shenanigans or, as it happened to Odette Yustman in The Unborn, a combo of that and something to be ogled at.
And if you happen to overlook the attempt at depth creation altogether, that’s all right; Krasinski and company will forgive you for being too occupied with anticipating when danger is within earshot, which it usually will. Out-of-breath, you will still be — either that cold blow from Marco Beltrami’s score or d.o.p. Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s framing that relishes in masking death with the idyll will promptly amplify the tension. This combo echoes, and is as delightful as, Gravity‘s Steven Price and Emmanuel Lubezki, meaning immersion will be instantaneous and armrests will get remolded.
Conclusion: A Quiet Place
Assuming cinema etiquette is still alive, the loudest sound that can be heard among A Quiet Place’s audience will be their own semi-breathing. It’s just mind-boggling to unpack how well Krasinski and crew are in petrifying viewers and that they have given Platinum Dunes a second victory lap.
Who knows if a three-peat is possible, but chances are high when the next film has the fear factor of this and more wholesome characters. Should all that happen, ridding the oxymoron hovering the company won’t be an effortful process.
Have you seen A Quiet Place? Voice your thoughts below! If it’s scary, or not, we would like to know.
A Quiet Place was released in the US and the UK on April 6, 2018. For all international release dates, see here.
Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.