The use of sound has become more prominent in horror films over the past few years. With films like Hush and Don’t Breathe, the nature of sound and the way people interact with sound has become more powerful and important in the horror landscape. It was only a matter of time really before this focus on sound was taken to the extreme with a monster movie focused on creatures that hunt based on sound. What was surprising was who decided to take that jump: John Krasinski, who is primarily known for his comedic work, mainly playing Jim in the American version of The Office. That, plus the involvement of Michael Bay, did give me a bit of worry that the film would not live up to the horror potential in the premise, but I needn’t have worried, this is an excellent, tense horror film.The film takes place after an invasion by creatures with a highly attuned sense of hearing, which enables them to hear even the smallest noises with pinpoint accuracy, with our focus being on a family who has been able to survive due to their existing knowledge of sign language based on the daughter being deaf. After the youngest son is killed by one of the creatures a sense of guilt comes over the family, with the main events taking place over a year later with the mother about to give birth to another child, trying to find a way to have the child safely. Now the main plot of the film is how things go wrong and the family has to hide from the creatures, making as little sound as possible, but the real meat of the film comes through the relationship of the family and how they’ve reacted to the events of the film. Part of this involves the characters not addressing each other by name throughout the film, only finding out the names of the characters in the credits, and it’s also little things like most of the family still mouthing and saying the words they’re signing under their breath, like their saying it to help them translate the words into sign language. A lot of the decisions the characters make also feel more believable on an emotional level rather than a logical one, the decision to have another child clearly being meant as a replacement for the one that died, and staying in their house rather than move to a waterfall or a dam, where the creatures would be less likely to hear them, based on the security they feel where they currently are on an emotional level. The meat in this side though is the relationship between the father and daughter, the father trying his best to relate and comfort his daughter through things like trying to construct a cochlear implant so she can hear, whilst the daughter feels like her dad blames her for her brothers death, this creating an emotional rift between the characters that they haven’t been able to overcome.
This dynamic between the family is aided by the excellent performances throughout. John Krasinski as Lee, the dad, is strong showing the concern that he has for his family, the intelligence he has in trying to communicate with the outside world and constructing a cochlear implant and his feelings of guilt over not being able to protect his youngest son and how he is unable to express the love he has for his daughter as a result. Emily Blunt as Evelyn meanwhile is also able to bring across the feelings of guilt effectively and how the maternal instincts of the character have been tested by the world around them. She also shows a great deal of strength in dealing with pain, not just emotional but physical, showing the difficulty the character has in trying to avoid screaming when in physical pain and the terror she feels over the wrong sound meaning the death of her and her family. The chemistry between Krasinski and Blunt is excellent, which isn’t surprising seeing as they’re married in real life, with moments like them both dancing to music they listen to through headphones showing the few moments of intimacy the characters can have in this world and what they feel has been lost. Noah Jupe as the oldest son Marcus does a great job in showing his reaction to the events of the film, his fear feeling believable and effectively acts as a voice of reason to his dad, although he is the least interesting character in the film. The standout performance in the film though is Millicent Simmonds as Regan, the family’s daughter. Firstly, the decision of Krasinski to cast an actual deaf actress in the part does so much to let the audience understand the character, the way that Simmonds reacts to everything around her, mainly not being able to hear the noises, is excellent, both as a showcase for Simmonds, having to base everything on what she sees, and for Krasinski’s direction in choosing what to show to the audience rather than Regan. Simmonds also does an excellent job at showing the feelings of guilt she has, blaming herself for her brother’s death, using the location of his death as a shrine, and the complicated feelings she has for her dad as a result, helping to build the relationship between Regan and Lee effectively. This is mainly through how she reacts seeing Lee compared to when she’s alone, being confrontational to Lee over him constructing the cochlear implant, angrily signing to him that it wouldn’t work, but in private testing it herself and being heartbroken when the implant doesn’t work. This is a difficult performance for any actor, having to balance these conflicting emotions, with the age of Simmonds making it all the more impressive.
In talking about the technical side of the film, the main element to praise is the sound design. The sense of quiet that’s built up throughout the film helps to build up the tension throughout and makes the moments where there are loud noises all the more shocking through how sudden they are and the consequences you know are coming. Every single sound in the film could be the last sound the characters make and this tension is built really effectively throughout the film. The sound is also used to put us in the shoes of the characters, the sound getting muted when we focus on Regan to put the audience in her shoes, letting the audience have the feeling of being deaf, as much as can possibly be conveyed, whilst in the scenes focusing on the creatures, the volume and frequency of the noise is increased, giving the audience an understanding of the hypersensitivity of their hearing. For a film like this, good sound design is vital and thankfully the film succeeds on this front. The production design as well gives us an understanding as to how the family have survived, mainly in the way the house they live in has been altered to protect them, with sand on the floor to prevent loud footsteps, paint to note where to stand so the floorboards don’t squeak and having the warning system be visual, it’s little details like those that help to create the world of the film more believable.
Overall, A Quiet Place is an excellent horror film. The use of sound and the world this use of sound creates is effective at building tension, but the reason the film works is the dynamic between the family, focusing on the emotional state of the characters and building up the characters so that you care about what happens to them, something that a lot of horror films don’t take the time to do. This, combined with the strong pacing which works in conjunction with the strong sound design to ratchet up the tension, gives us a compelling horror film on almost every front.
My Rating: 4.5/5