John Krasinski’s sci-fi horror has an intriguing central idea: what if noise was punishable by death? What if aliens with hyper-sensitive hearing had taken over the world and now attacked every living thing that made a noise?
It’s a terrific cinematic premise, one that installs its own rules, tension and dynamics. With every loud-ish noise now the enemy, the audience is on tenterhooks throughout; seeing the sacrifices made by the film’s characters to stay quiet, we are made to think about the importance of noise in our own lives.
At the start ‘Day 89’ flashes up on the screen, as dimly-glimpsed figures scurry in bare feet around a derelict supermarket. Outside in the deserted high street the camera picks out posters of ‘missing’ people. It’s quiet. Too quiet, except for the score’s ominous rumble. A boy draws a rocket and uses sign language to say to an older girl, ‘that’s how we’ll get away’.
In the silence we are more alert, just like the film’s family, whose senses are primed for danger. What has happened here? What happened on Day 1? Plot-wise, we are made to piece things together from old newspaper headlines: ‘IT’S SOUND!’, ‘They can hear you,’ and ‘what you need to survive’. As we follow Evelyn (Emily Blunt), Lee (John Krasinski) and their children back to their rural farmhouse we warm to this close-knit family in survivalist mode.
Amidst the shock-jumps and monster-strikes, writer-director Krasinski gives us an allegory of parenthood, with all its fierce love and fears. Mother Evelyn asks, ‘who are we, if we can’t protect them?’ We see the family arguing, at play, at the dinner table, most of the time using the sign language that they have learned to communicate with deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds). Sharing ear-buds, real-life husband and wife Krasinski and Blunt dance gently to Neil Young’s Harvest Moon.
The acting from all the cast is excellent – naturalistic, organic and expressive. Blunt’s enforced silent anguish is at times almost unbearable. The tension is ratcheted up with the imminent due-date of their new baby. How will she be able to give birth without making a noise? And it will surely be impossible to keep a new-born baby quiet?
When they show themselves, the aliens are a curious mixture of the xenomorphs from the Alien films, the pods from which they erupted, and crabs with can-opener claws. We see close-ups of their inner-ears pulsing to signify their sensitivity to sound. In monster movies, less is usually more. The noise they make when they move sounds like the slo-mo sequences from 70s TV favourite The Six Million Dollar Man, which rather ruined it for me. It is supposed to represent the beeps of echo-location.
If you allow yourself to be swept along with it A Quiet Place is original and engaging edge-of-the-seat cinema. But as it forces you to think about the need for both silence and noise, the doubts creep in. Will the aliens come if I sneeze? How much noise is too much? Do they attack any noise in the world?
I was reminded of YA author Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking novels (soon to be a motion picture), in which its characters can hear other people’s thoughts, or ‘noise’. Like Ness, Krasinski is reacting to information overload in the modern world. Perhaps he is making a sly dig at our angry, shouty age and hankering for more innocent times, when our dads taught us how to catch fish and we played Monopoly instead of staring at screens.
Or maybe those aliens just wanted a bit of peace and quiet.