This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Kevin Jones’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
A Quiet Place may be the third film directed by John Krasinski but this nifty and thrilling horror film feels like a re-birth. After making two middling-to-bad comedies, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and The Hollars, Krasinski has reinvented himself as the director of one of the finest horror films in the past few years. It may not be as technically proficient or soul-invading as some more popular independent works such as The Witch, It Follows, or The Babadook, but A Quiet Place feels like the mid-budget answer to those films. A thrilling, smart, and terrifically executed work, A Quiet Place shines an entirely new light on Krasinski as a director. As an actor, especially when paired here with real-life wife Emily Blunt, there is no question he has talent. Yet, it is his control of the film’s atmosphere and its sound that makes A Quiet Place as successful as it is as a horror film. Using a unique blend of American Sign Language and English to tell its tight and narrowly focused story, A Quiet Place will thrill and move you in equal measure.
Of course, what social themes there are in the film are quite nicely written into the fabric of its narrative. As with many writers going through deeply personal events, Krasinski lends the film his own feelings and emotions regarding fatherhood. With he and Blunt having their second child as he was writing A Quiet Place’s script, the film partially represents the fears of having a child in a situation where no one can make a noise or else the monsters will attack, but also the issues of losing a child and trying to protect all of their kids from danger. In such terrible and terrifying times, both Lee (Krasinski) and Evelyn Abbott (Blunt) take the world onto their shoulders. Lee is the protector of the family, hunting in the woods for food, and always working out in their home’s farmland to try to help the family anticipate issues or to provide them with sustenance. His ingenuity is greatly beneficial, especially with touches such as the warning lights in the yard to signal to him whenever the home is under attack or when Evelyn finally goes into labor. At home, Evelyn is the nurturer. She teaches young son Marcus (Noah Jupe) basic math, while his father teaches him how to fish. For daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), she helps her mother where possible, but certainly takes a backseat to her brother. When teaching Marcus to hunt, Lee leaves behind Regan, much to her chagrin. All of this speaks to a few things.
One, the first bit of the film that is key is the theme of protection. For the parents, they take every precaution necessary in order to protect their children. As they lose one son to the monsters, their responsibility is only magnified. In a rare spoken moment, Evelyn reminds Lee that it is on them to protect these kids. If they cannot protect their own children, then who are they? Their whole identity is built around protecting their children, while Lee’s identity is built on protecting the children and Evelyn. As the husband, he feels this responsibility in a deeply ingrained way, while Evelyn feels that maternal instinct to protect her kin at all costs. This universal element - of protecting one’s children and family - proves to be the great emotional core of the film. It is the most revealing about the characters, even with Krasinski’s script being quite limited in character development as a whole. It is this emotion, however, that allows the audience to feel great pathos for these characters, as their problems and fears are their own. In this dangerous world in which they live, they want nothing more to protect their children. Yet, they must learn to live on their own and protect themselves. Lee is far more certain of this, trusting them to follow the plans and escape strategies he taught them to avoid the blind but ultrasonic hearing-equipped monsters. Evelyn, as the mother, is the one who wears her emotions on her sleeves, always expressing great concern for the well-being of the kids with so much danger around them.
It is that difference - Lee being protector and confident father, while Evelyn is a protector but a worried mother - that brings in the second major point of the film: gender roles. The film’s gender roles are certainly quite archaic. Coupled with the film’s focus on the religion of its characters and how important of a role it plays in their lives and the fact that Evelyn kept and gave birth to a baby in such troubled times (which has given way to some pro-life readings of the film), it is clear that the film is trying to portray a world in which people have reverted to the way things were in hunter-gatherer societies. Though equipped with modern touches, the men hunt, the women gather, and the forces outside of their world pose great danger. Whether that great danger is enemy factions or of dangerous creatures in the woods - honestly, these monsters feel a bit like something one would read of from Indian mythology about creatures that lurk in the woods and kill anything that makes a sound - the danger is there. Thus, the film is not necessarily saying that women are lesser or better as nurturers - though Evelyn, until the final act, perfectly fits into Laura Mulvey’s theory on the role of women in films as the child-rearer as well as having to be punished with Evelyn stepping on a nail as her punishment - but the film is instead attempting to portray a society reverting to old norms. As such, aborting a child is barely an option. She is pregnant and will give birth. Not only did religion prohibit it, but there was little-to-no way to actually abort a baby without putting the mother in grave danger as a result. Thus, it is a bit misleading to call A Quiet Place a pro-life film, just as it would be misleading to call it sexist. It may portray archaic gender roles and ideals, but it does so for a point.
That point being that, in such a society, these gender roles can only be so successful. As Evelyn stays home and Regan begrudgingly stays behind her, the family gets into considerable danger. Yet, Evelyn handles the situation at home. She gives birth. She escapes a creature. She defends her baby against a creature. At the end of the film, it is Regan’s discovery of the creature’s weakness that allows them to have some success in evading another creature. It is Evelyn and Regan who team up to fight against the creatures coming their way, all while young Marcus huddles in the corner with the baby. Lee may have made the ultimate sacrifice for his children, but he was largely ineffectual in actually defending and facing the creatures head on, instead relying on his wit as opposed to his physical strength. Evelyn, instead, proves to be the most imposing figure in the film, armed to the teeth and with the unshakeable courage to not just give birth to her own baby without help, but the ability to pull the trigger to save her kids at all costs. This is a film that reverts to old school gender roles for 80 minutes, only to then come around and show that it is not just a one man show. The family gets into trouble when it is just the dad against the world. When he is gone and it is on the mother and daughter to protect the family, there is still trouble from what had already started, but there is the feeling that there is a light at the end of the tunnel with the pair knowing what they need to do in order to survive. For a world plunged into silence and darkness, the only hope to overcome is not moving into the past and relying on hunter-gathering. The only hope is to lean on the women to help guide society out of this trauma and into safety once more.
These ideas certainly lend to the very universal emotions it elicits. As Lee prepares to sacrifice himself, he signs to Regan to say that he loves her and always has. As Regan has blamed herself for the death of her younger brother and believed her dad did as well, this moment is incredibly cathartic, especially given what is about to occur. It is undoubtedly manipulative and sentimental, but it works. It makes the audience fight back tears as Krasinski’s limited character development has nonetheless been successful in not just making the audience root for the characters, but in making their emotions our own. We sit alongside Regan and understand why she would blame herself, just as we sit there and feel the emotional release and conflict of knowing her dad does not blame her but also having to watch him sacrifice himself. Similarly, in its themes parents protecting their kids, the film similarly rings a bell as the emotions and feelings of both Lee and Evelyn are ones that much of the audience can relate to on an incredibly deep level. This film may not be deep and it may be a bit manipulative, but the greatest element A Quiet Place possesses is how it shows the great responsibility and love a parent has for their child, whether it is through telling them they love them, feeling the need to protect them, or dedicating their freetime to trying to find a way to help their deaf daughter actually hear.
Technically, the best element of A Quiet Place is unsurprisingly its use of sound. Krasinski and his sound editors/mixers have undoubtedly hit it out of the park, making it quite likely that A Quiet Place will factor into many Awards season discussions for its sound. Whether the film is silent, or the amplified sounds of accidental noise the people make, or the efforts of the characters to stay quiet, A Quiet Place finds great solace in the moments it can make noise - whether as distraction, as tenderness between husband and wife in a scene of them listening to music together, or of father and son bonding next to a running river that provides cover for them - but it is in the silent moments that its use of sound is so good. Not only is the sound amplified, but it is practically weaponized. From the moment the film begins and shows their young son being killed due to his playing with a light-up noise-making NASA spaceship toy, Krasinski sets the tone: sound is the enemy. Newspapers warn of the dangers of making noise, just as they flap in the wind at the edge of the screen. As such, he has already successfully cultivated an atmosphere around the sound in the film, but also makes good on it throughout the film. The sound is not overwhelming the film, which makes it that much more effective in evoking terror. Every note of the sparse score or the brief moments of dialogue or sounds being made and attracting the creatures, the film knows just when to push every button. The sound makes this film, as every bit of noise made resonates with the audience in a way that is highly uncommon. Evelyn merely wading in water proves to be tense, as we can hear her legs moving through the water and creating a slight ripple. Though A Quiet Place may not rely on sound, it is the absence and brief punches provided by the limited sound that makes its sound so excellent. It is never a film with sound for the sake of sound. Instead, every bit adds to the overall picture.
The film also excels in terms of exposition. There are, aside from one conversation, few moments where Krasinski sits down and explains to the audience what is happening. Instead, he leans on newspaper clippings on the Abbott family wall or a whiteboard in the background that lays out the known traits and abilities of the creatures. He never turns to a lame news report at the beginning of the film, instead he allows the audience to just see the capabilities of the monsters, see how they behave, and constantly feel their presence without having to be told they are there. We know they are there. The film knows they are there. And that is all that matters. There is no need to explain how they came to be or what they are trying to accomplish. In this way, Krasinski’s film certainly bears the imprint of Alien, which he cited as an influence. Until the recent prequel films, Alien was noted for its rather upfront treatment of its creature. It is there and it is attacking people. Does it really matter how or when it got there? Here, A Quiet Place just labels a few moments as “Day 472” or “Day 473”, but when it started is unknown and unnecessary. This is a film about people trying to survive at all costs, thus the film focuses in on that element and simply narrows its focus on this battle between this family and these creatures. The film’s limited runtime may contribute to this narrow focus, but it helps the film’s rather tight structure that it does not indulge in lengthy exposition or some philosophical rumination about what is happening. This tight focus is all contributed to by the film's precisw "setup and payoff" style of writing, of which A Quiet Place may be the premier example. It not only proves to be rewarding and thrilling, but also entertaining in how unindulgent this work is throughout.
As intended, A Quiet Place is also incredibly thrilling and terrifying. As the creature lurks behind characters, in corners, or just in the forest, the constant feeling that these people are not safe permeates the film. The end result is that the audience is constantly on edge and never able to sit back and revel in a slow moment. Every moment is tense or on the precipice of possibly devolving into chaos if just one small noise is made. Jumping right into showing the creatures - rather than keeping them a mystery lurking in the distance - and showing their capabilities right away, A Quiet Place delivers the horror movie goods from the very beginning, while creating terrific suspense and thrills along the way. A lot of this is due to that atmosphere it creates, but also due to its visuals namely in the blocking and set/production design. With an isolated house surrounded in lights to signal what is going on inside the home, the fact that the only people out there to help this family are themselves is never lost on A Quiet Place, creating suspense in its own right. Moments of the creature attacking raccoons, reaction shots of the family reacting to sounds outside their home, shots of a creature lurking behind Regan or facing off with Evelyn, or of it encountering Regan and Marcus at the silo, are always bolstered by both the lighting of the moment and how Krasinski stages the moments. Just as every bit of sound is important, every bit of the set and of the framing comes into play as he creates great suspense with considerable ease and attention to detail. A Quiet Place is a film that may be built around its sound, but its visuals only further add to its great impact, due to the power some shots hold (the lights) or in how he creates suspense with quick flashes of the creatures.
One of the stronger horror films in recent years, John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place is a smart, thrilling, and terrifying work that is incredibly well-rounded. Featuring excellent turns from stars John Krasinski and Emily Blunt in performances that demand greatly physical acting that both nail throughout, as well as terrific turns from young stars Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jude, A Quiet Place is a horror film that entertains, proves to be quite thought-provoking, and moves the audience in unexpected ways. Ending on a bit of a cliff-hanger, the film may alienate some audiences who prefer more satisfying narrative conclusions, but it is certainly satisfying a film that nails the ominous, suspenseful, and often terrifying feelings it tries to create. For a director who made nothing but two bad comedies that came and went without much notice, John Krasinski just solidified himself as one of the bright young stars in directing.