Sound is something we really take for granted. Not only in movies, but just in our daily lives, we live with constant sound, that either we are generating, or just ambient noise that drifts into our space. So how do you deal with real, true silence when it's essential to your continued survival? This is the question posed by A Quiet Place, an incredibly tight, well-made thriller from John Krasinski. I can only imagine that early on in the creative process, he understood the challenge of making a movie where not only would dialogue have to be sparse, but the audience would be required to be near silent in order for the movie to effectively build it's atmosphere. It succeeds immensely in both departments from my point of view, and it made for one of the most memorable theater-going experiences in recent history.
One of the most impressive parts of this movie is it's ability to adhere to the age-old adage of "show, don't tell". This is basically a necessity, since so much of the movie is silent, but even so the execution here is much better than I was really expecting. So many movies fall into the awful trap of having their characters state things out loud that no normal human being ever would, for the express purpose of giving the audience some information. Exposition is necessary sometimes, but if as a screenwriter, one can't find a way to convey information other than having a character say it out loud, then it's going to hurt the movie. I didn't expect anything incredible going in here in terms of this, but right away I could see how much thought had been put into this concept. Very early on, in the opening 5-10 minutes of the movie, A Quiet Place proved itself to me by showing me that the daughter of the family was deaf. The way they did this is by muting almost all sound when things switched to her perspective. You'd be hearing a breeze, the sound of a door creaking, then suddenly the camera would pan to her and everything went silent. I understood almost immediately, as I'm sure everyone in the audience did, and that is a perfect example of why "show, don't tell" is so important. There was no pace-halting conversation that had to take place where the wife felt the need to explain to the husband that their daughter was deaf, even though they both already knew it. There was no unnecessary conversation about how it happened, it was simply a fact that was communicated to the audience and immediately understood, allowing for the film to move forward with the knowledge that we've acquired information about this character. The film is full of examples of this, so much world-building is done with visuals alone that I couldn't help but be floored. Krasinski to be frank does not have a great track record with directing so far, but A Quiet Place is truly on another level in terms of craft and quality.
This perfectly leads into the films ability to keep it's heightened level of tension for nearly it's entire running time. Once it really kicks into gear, the tense and anxious atmosphere of the film never really de-escalates, with only a few minutes passing between each instance of action or fear. For most movies this is a difficult task to accomplish, not only because of the challenge of actually creating that much quality content, but just because for the most part it's usually necessary for characters to communicate in ways that naturally have to break up the action. But by this point in the film, we as the audience have gotten used to the films language of sign language, hand gestures, and facial expressions. We don't need to hear the characters talk about a situation, because we can see in their eyes exactly what they're thinking. The visuals communicate everything we need to know, therefore the action and tension can proceed forward non-stop. The near-silence in the actual theater also seemed to elevate the tension to unbearable levels. You almost can't relax, your breathing is shorter as you attempt to stay as quiet as possible, as if you were also living in the world that these characters inhabit where silence is necessary to survival. Obviously everyone's movie-going experience will be different, but in all honesty the audience enhanced the movie for me. Being surrounded by a crowd of people that are entirely silent, even more than usual, somehow made things much more intense, much more thrilling as we reacted as a whole to every event. The collective sigh of relief as the credits rolled was one of my favorite moments, as you could feel the entire room finally relaxing, letting the tension in their bodies finally evaporate. Some people don't do to the movies to feel tension and fear, and that's completely understandable, but for those seeking out that thrill, A Quiet Place is going to be exactly what you're looking for.
I think the biggest welcome surprise to be found in A Quiet Place is Krasinski's emerging talent as a director. This is almost akin to last year's Get Out, where an actor/director known for comedy produces an incredible horror-type movie. A Quiet Place isn't exactly on the same level as Get Out, but there's definitely something to be said for Krasinski's directing here. As I said before, the ability to communicate to the audience without exposition is something that too many movies struggle with, but obviously the directing here takes that challenge and turns it into an asset. Krasinski fills the movie with moments of dread as we see things over shoulders, or hear things in the distance that terrify us, and he does this mostly without feeling the need to be too obvious. He's placed trust in the audience, which, especially in this sort of movie, is a great trait for a director to have. It's how this movie is able to be so lean, because Krasinski as a director is trusting us to keep up with him, to not have to be babied or told anything out right. So much of what I want to say about his directing does tie back into his ability to "show don't tell", but there is plenty of it that goes beyond that. He knows how to build an atmosphere, when to play music and when to not, when and where to show the terrifying creatures, and how to make us truly connect to these characters. When asked about why he directed this movie, he's stated that the thing that drew him to it most was this family and the dynamic that they have together as they attempt to survive in this new world. This is incredibly apparent, as the movie is filled with moments that highlight the relationship that they have with each other, the love that fills their lives despite the awful surrounding they have to live in. That's one of the wonderful things that this movie brings to the table. Instead of populating a horror film with the typical, trope-y characters we always see, we get a loving family to accompany here, a family that we connect with and get invested in. We want them all to live, not just separately but together as they deserve. These are good people who are forced to live in a terrible world, and because of the excellent script and directing, we're able to see this about them very quickly, and thus become sympathetic to their plight without any cheesiness or obvious pandering.
A Quiet Place is an experimental horror film that is also somehow a box-office hit. At time of writing, it's made over $150 million, which means it has currently made back almost 10 times it's budget. Krasinski has made this film into a cultural experience, a reason to go back to the movie theater in a time where attendance is dropping. This movie and many others like it, are proof that general audiences are ready for films that push the boundaries of what they normally like, if they're made correctly. People want novel experiences, they want excitement and thrills and something to talk about with their friends and family. You can make the 14th iteration of a safe franchise and achieve that to a degree, sure, but if you create something truly original like A Quiet Place that has the power to become a phenomenon, well, then you've really got something special on your hands.