If They Hear You, They Hunt You
Set three months after a cataclysmic event, we learn in the opening prologue that the Earth has been overrun by creatures that are drawn to moderately loud sounds, which have gone on to wipe out the majority of the population. After the opening establishing events, we skip forward a year and a half and follow the daily existence of Lee [Krasinksi], Evelyn [Blunt], Regan [Simmonds] and Marcus Abbott [Jupe]; a family surviving in this dangerous environment. Part of the reason they have lasted this long is the strict rules they live by – completely overhauling their way of life to avoid making excessive noise – and the fact that Regan herself is deaf, meaning the family are able to communicate with sign language. Despite their resourcefulness, they will be put to the test as Evelyn is heavily pregnant and a crying baby would put all of their lives in danger.
Anyone who regularly frequents this site will see a distinct pattern surrounding reviews for horror titles; specifically that there don’t tend to be many. That’s because I don’t enjoy horror. There are some genuinely standout titles that greatly appeal to me but genre’s formulaic nature and excessive use of loud jump scares make them lazy, painful affairs to endure. Having said that, there has been a bit of a new-wave presenting itself within the genre, films that tend to ebb away from cheap scare tactics and excessive schlocky violence, favouring smart tense premises and endearing and likable characters. That’s why films like The Witch, Get Out, 10 Cloverfield Lane and It Follows do well with a certain crowd but are then torn down for not “being real horrors” when, in actuality, they refrain from conforming to the regular tropes and draw a heavier emphasis on the central premise, story and character design. And A Quiet Place is a perfect addition to these titles, with a very simple but instantly recognisable premise that taps into a fundamentally animalistic fear of helplessness and no longer being the top of the food chain. On top of that, we have the absolutely wonderful world building and production design; from the sets to all the rituals and routines which have been methodically thought out and help outline an adjusted dystopian world not to dissimilar to our own.
In addition to all the pleasing visual and thematic elements, this film really shines when it comes to sound. And this is one of those films that doesn’t simply use one gimmick but employs a variety of methods and inventive fixes to really immerse you and create a terrifying environment. Cinematically speaking, we are often treated to the most powerful speakers and sound systems which mask the general bustle and noise of a collected audience but when you are forced to sit in the near-silence of this film, you become more aware of yourself and those around you. That creates another level of discomfort above and beyond what is present in the film itself and that is why this is exceptional horror; the kind that burrows into your mind and unwrites the logic that tells you that you are safe and this is a work of fiction. Of course, that isn’t meant to be a slight against the use of sound, as it is frankly masterful. The way we experience the world through Regan’s eyes/ears, the unseen threat just off-screen, the concept of one natural sound outweighing another (e.g. screaming into a waterfall) and Marco Beltrami’s perfect, incredibly unsettling score – all of these components create a unique world that perpetuates an unease that runs from start to finish.
All of these technical components are of course moot if the acting is sub-par. Thankfully, the family presented carry this film magnificently and although one could argue so little actually happens, the fear on their faces sells so much and generates a sustained tension and a perfectly paced experience. When listing my cast, it occurred to me that I really wasn’t sure who the main character is. I can almost certainly rule out Marcus, just because of screen-time but between Regan, Evelyn and Lee, there is a jostling for which will be the most proactive individual and subsequently this highlights a few interesting things about the cast. For those who don’t know, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski are married, so what we have here is a real couple dynamic (especially as these actors have two children together); on top of that, Millicent Simmonds is, for lack of a better phrase, actually deaf which brings an obvious realism to the performance. And yet one could argue these things are not requisite to making a good film, that just because an on-screen couple are together in real-life, doesn’t mean they will be able to escape performing. The difference is experience and relatability. In terms of writing and direction, Krasinski has brought a lot of very personal emotionality that plays on the mind of a parent. I’m not saying it’s impossible for someone to empathise and assume what it would be like but there is a priceless insight which is utilised. Equally, with Simmonds, having someone who experiences the world differently, offers the opportunity to incorporate developments into the film that maximise the concept of what it is like to live without sound. Coupled with a strong story and amazing production, phenomenal performances are what tip this over the edge into truly great cinema. The only flaws I can find are elements of mimicry and familiarity with other suspenseful releases and a couple of gender presentation issues that don’t get fully addressed but outside of that, it’s a completely relentless, emotional, simple piece that is extremely enjoyable and wholly commendable.
6th April 2018
The Scene To Look Out For:
One of the early examples of the exquisite sound design is during one of the progressive moves forward, leaping the events ahead and opening with Regan sleeping on a sandy floor. Either in her dreams or a stylistic choice, we hear the sounds of nature and are given the impression she is laying calmly on a beach. It’s only when she abruptly wakes and the dull hum that signals her “point of view” as a deaf person replaces the familiar sounds. The moment itself is so simple but it is a sublime example of the messages, situations and perspectives that cinema can convey.
I really have to commend Krasinksi, partly because he has done an astounding job acting but also because his direction is spot-on. More so than that, he made one particular casting choice that really pleased me. Too often film and television rely on able-bodied actors to play individuals with disabilities and it shuts out an entire group of people who can bring so much to that performance from a perspective point alone. And while this may sound like hyperbole, it is, in essence, not far off men playing women on stage during the 1600s or white people in black-face. I don’t doubt someone could have given a credible performance in the role of Regan but having someone who can accurately draw on things that someone who is imitating that existence may not have considered, should be championed as often as possible. And I really shouldn’t be saying things like that in this day and age, it should be the norm.
“Who are we if we can’t protect them? Who are we?”
In A Few Words:
“A fantastically tense and marvellously acted feature from start to finish”