Silence is one of the go-to tricks of many a horror film. It’s a classic way to lead up to a jump scare or build suspense. It naturally draws the viewer in, puts them on edge, because there’s something unnerving about silence in a world where we’ve become so used to the noise.
It’s the sound of silence that makes A Quiet Place an interesting vision of a post-apocalyptic future . Monsters of an unknown origin are extremely sensitive to any sound, meaning that the few humans left are humans who have committed to lives of silence. Raiding shops in silence and laying down paths of sand to traverse barefoot reshape the world into a place where the slightest noise could bring death.
The Abbott family may be the only people left on earth as far as they know, able to adapt to the silence due to their eldest, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), being deaf. The family communicates through sign language and builds an entire abode around making as little noise as possible. Their youngest Beau dies after an incident with a toy that makes noise. The father, Lee (John Krasinski), retreats into his grief while the mother, Evelyn (Emily Blunt), tries to emotionally support Marcus (Noah Jupe) as Lee begins to place more responsibility on him.
If that sounds more like a family drama than a horror film it’s because a lot of the early film is building up that family drama and exploring the different relational tensions between family members. Writing duo Bryan Woods & Scott Beck team up with John Krasinski to craft one of the most humane horror movies of recent years. The shocks and schlock take a back-seat to a lot of quiet character moments.
It’s the performances that hold this film together. The vast majority of this film is communicated through sign language so it’s gestures with hands, facial expressions and a gaze that will communicate more than words alone could say.
The obvious standout performance is Millicent Simmonds, a deaf actress who–beyond giving an authenticity to the performance–is able to express so much emotion with her eyes and hands that a wellspring of intensity comes out well beyond most actresses her age.
John Krasinski melts into his role as the stern father with this deeply intense sadness about him. There’s always this sense he’s on the edge of tears, that he is in a constant state of emotional fragility.
Emily Blunt works as the cornerstone of the cast, able to play off the more intense emotions flung about her while also giving what looks like a rather physically intense performance given an early plot twist.
With such a cast and premise, it’s not surprising that the best moments of the film are quiet bits where a character wants to scream in frustration but can’t or a father shows his son how to fish. Life here happens in the silence, in the unspoken, in the little tasks. Laundry hung out to dry or a silent prayer before a dinner eaten in silence. Those moments speak to much of meant of what it means to be family: to live in proximity but to also share in life for good and ill.
In a world falling apart, A Quiet Place finds solace in family. The world it envisions is terrifying and horrible, but it never comes across as bleak or insane as its post-apocalyptic contemporaries such as Mad Max: Fury Road or The Walking Dead. There’s a sense that even if the civilization falls apart people will continue to live and love and that will be enough to keep the world going.
© James Blake Ewing 2018