A QUIET PLACE (2018) – Film Review

Full disclosure: I am not a fan of horror films. There’s a place for the horror genre, as author Mike Duran recently explained, but it’s not a genre I typically enjoy. A large part of the reason is that I hate jump scenes; they unnerve me to an excruciatingly unpleasant degree. (Think of a fainting goat, but preceded by a Ringwraith-like scream of fear.)

So when I saw ads for A Quiet Place, I had no plans to see it. Why would I? The last movie I’d seen in theaters that had any real horror elements was Cloverfield—and that was ten years ago. It would take a unique set of circumstances to lure me into a darkened movie theater for a terror-stricken stroll down Horror Movie Lane.

But then the reviews started coming in, and the more I heard from people I follow and trust, the more intrigued I became. Evidently, A Quiet Place wasn’t your typical horror film, for several reasons—reasons that made me think I might actually want to see it. Over the last couple weeks, my excitement grew strong, palpable enough to convince my wife (who also hates horror films) to agree to see the movie with me on a date night. (I now owe her an uncomplaining viewing of The Greatest Showman.)

As a reminder, I rate movies based on three criteria: content (C), artistic merit (A), and my personal opinions (P).

CONTENT (C): 10 out of 10

When it comes to questionable content, A Quiet Place is indeed an atypical horror movie. No gratuitous gore. No gratuitous sex. No gratuitous language. In addition, the story revolves around thematic ideas worth contemplating: paternal love, loss and regret, the importance of faith, and the inherent value of human life (born and unborn), just to name a few.

ARTISTRY (A): 9 out of 10

As a visual medium, film can communicate a wealth of information without dialogue. Practically every other form of storytelling demands the use of spoken words. It is theoretically possible, however, for a movie to tell an engaging story with no words at all.

In A Quiet Place, characters speak to each other using normal voices in only two short scenes. The rest of the time, the main characters communicate through American Sign Language (with subtitles provided for those unfamiliar with ASL). Thus, a majority of A Quiet Place is dialogue free, and the filmmakers take advantage of these limitations to communicate to the audience through other visual and auditory means. The ability for us to remain enraptured for 90 minutes without almost nary a word spoken is a testament to the skills of John Krasinski and his creative team, both in front of and behind the camera.

This is truly a story that could only be told through the medium of film. According to sound editor Ethan Van der Ryn, the aural design in A Quiet Place is “something that’s totally cinematic. There would be no other way of getting that feeling. We can’t get that feeling from reading it in a book, or from hearing it on the radio alone, or from seeing it in a play. It’s a unique experience that we could only have in cinema.”

To illustrate the movie’s effect: my wife and I were concerned that some people who were talking fairly loudly behind us would be a distraction during the movie. Before the first scene had ended, however, all surrounding noise—talking, popcorn eating, bag rustling—ceased. Except for the sounds emanating from the speakers, our theater became a literal quiet place.

The acting is superb all around, but the highlight is possibly Noah Jupe as young Marcus Abbott, being trained by his father to help care for the family in a dystopian world which the boy finds terrifying. The musical score by Marco Beltrami conveys a genuine sense of dread without being atonal or needlessly grating. The musical motif for the family starts with the same three notes as the main theme for The Ring (one of the few other horror films I have actually seen), which I found a bit distracting at first, but I soon found other sights and sounds to be more distracting (in a good way).

Some have criticized a certain aspect of the film’s resolution (whether because it is too obvious or simple), and I can appreciate their point. At the same time, I don’t think it gets anywhere close to derailing the narrative. And the last shot is a nearly pitch-perfect way to conclude the film with a note of hopeful expectation.

PREFERENCE (P): 7 out of 10

I found the movie not nearly as scary as I thought it would be. Unrelentingly tense, yes, but not in a way that subjected me to abject terror. Granted, I had cheated a bit by reviewing the jump scenes in the movie at the website Where’s the Jump?

Maybe it’s because I’m now a father, but the family dynamics in the movie made me tear up on several occasions. (Then again, I have a history of crying during movies, so there’s that to consider.) It is these relationships that give the film its dramatic weight. We’re not gleefully waiting to see who’s going to bite it next; we’re anxiously anticipating the next incident and hoping everything somehow turns out all right.

Speaking of the family dynamics, it is a pleasure to see real-life husband-and-wife-team John Krasinski and Emily Blunt playing the part of a married couple onscreen. Maybe this is so refreshing because of what I’ve been researching over the last few years: how actors’ privacy, dignity, and sexuality are repeatedly violated through the improper use of onscreen sex and nudity. This often happens as actors sexually engage with other actors who aren’t their spouses. With this reality lodged in my consciousness, it’s a relief to see a real husband and wife display physical affection to each other, without any inappropriate or titillating material. The one scene in which Krasinksi and Blunt share a chaste and tender moment of affection is what film critic Steven D. Greydanus rightly calls “the most tender screen dance in ages.” The love found within a covenant relationship is right and good and beautiful and attractive, and it is a pleasure to see even a small expression of that truth in a major studio production. More of that, please!

During the process of watching the movie, I will admit that I admired it more than I enjoyed it. There’s also a third-act plot point that left me with something of a bitter aftertaste, although that may be more of a personal preference than an actual artistic critique. Nevertheless, A Quiet Place has stayed with me ever since I saw it, and the more I think about it, the more I like it.

CAP score: 87%

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