A Quiet Place

Sadly, not quiet enough.

The premise of this movie is promising: nasty aliens have invaded Earth and although they look like Alien’s mangled, second rate cousin, they can’t see or smell. They find their victims purely by ear. I liked how director John Krasinski starts the film forcing the audience to be quiet (quite a feat when it comes to New York horror movie fans). Silence is so rare in movies, particularly commercial ones, that the concept of a mainstream movie relying on the absence of noise sounds refreshing. Alas, the filmmakers did not have the nerve to take the movie to scarier depths. They did not follow through on their own premise that silence can be very frightening.

This film has no concept of how to genuinely scare the audience. Every jump is a cheap scare achieved with the help of a bombastic sound effect. For a quiet place, there is way too much ominous music. Not only do the filmmakers not have the nerve to take the story to truly terrifying places in a silent world, they don’t trust that the audience can infer the most basic stuff. Instead, they telegraph their own plot twists, which totally robs the film of tension. They betray the potential of their premise with a trite script. The script focuses on the prosaic, which could be interesting. How do you live in silence when you are surrounded by gadgets with bells, whistles, and engines? But they don’t delve into the personal ramifications, good or bad, funny or sad, of living without sound. The characters are as dimensional as stick figures. Once again, here is the classic American family of our collective dreams populated by two resourceful and loving parents saddled with inexplicably unbearable children: a sullen teenage brat whose deafness does nothing to temper the fact that she is a walking cliché, and her wimpy little brother. Insufferable children may be true to life but I’m sick of paying to see them in the movies. Whatever happened to charming, smart, resourceful children? Bring back Shirley Temple! It is a good thing that the super-heroic mom is played by Emily Blunt, who brings genuine humanity to her uber-mother. The dad is played by writer-director John Krasinski, who depicts his character as a well-meaning yet complete failure as a parent. He tries hard to protect his family but never seems to be where he is needed the most. The plot is manipulated in such formulaic ways that the audience is always four years ahead of the characters, never a good thing in any movie, let alone a horror one.

It doesn’t matter if it looks like money or was shot with four dollars and a lightbulb, the only criterion of success for a horror film is that it needs to scare the living daylights out of you. A Quiet Place keeps the audience busy with the concept of a family having to live in silence to survive but it misses every opportunity to create a genuine atmosphere of terror. Sadly, it also denies itself a sense of humor, which could bring some nuance and irony to the tale. An interesting dinner scene squanders the possibility of exploring the excruciating intimacy of human noises. I thought of Daniel Day Lewis in Phantom Thread and his horror at the scraping of a butter knife on toast. He was scarier than the aliens in this movie.

Beware of spoilers:

A Quiet Place is emotionally clueless and dramatically incompetent. To wit: This family has been living in harrowing circumstances and gone through terrible trauma and it turns out that mom is pregnant. The filmmakers present this momentous event eliptically, as a matter of fact. In one scene the married couple are dancing to Neil Young, and two scenes later the lady has a protruding belly. Wouldn’t it have been enlightening to see them negotiate silent sex? Or to witness their terror when they found out that she got pregnant? This would have added unbearable tension to the movie. Instead, Krasinski dispenses with what makes horror movies terrifying, which is a creeping atmosphere of dread. The filmmakers can imagine scary situations, like a woman going through silent labor, or what happens if you fall into a silo full of corn (don’t try it), but they can’t imagine human feelings beyond the simplistic psychology of heroic characters in American blockbusters.

In the family dynamics, I smelled a potent whiff of conservatism. The male is the hunter-gatherer-protector, and the female is the homemaker and nurturer. The plot has her go into labor when everyone is conveniently away, as if they were living in the suburbs and dad was at work and the kids were at school. She is home, I kid you not, doing silent laundry. I understand they are living in apocalyptic times, but does everything have to be so regressive? The movie pays lip service to the resourcefulness and efficiency of women but because of the filmmakers’ indifference to real human behavior, I didn’t buy it.

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