John Krasinski and Noah Jupe in A Quiet Place.
True to its name, John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place begins hauntingly in an empty, silent supermarket as the Abbott family forages for medicine for their ailing eldest son, Marcus (Noah Jupe). The camera tracks matriarch Evelyn Abbott’s (Emily Blunt) bare feet as she treads carefully on the wooden floor, finally locating a plastic pill bottle. She picks it up to examine it, and the camera tightens on a close-up; in such a silent world, we are afraid of the potential sound the bottle could make as she places it back on the shelf. She holds her breath, and the audience follows suit; the theater is as dead as the world we are watching. It is these heightened moments of depicted normalcy, where even the most banal of acts must be completed with the utmost precision and caution that makes A Quiet Place scream louder than any voice possibly could.
The perspective then shifts to that of the two other Abbott children, Regan (Millicent Simmons) and Beau (Cade Woodward), who converse in sign language about their mutual desire to escape the planet. From what, we do not know…yet. In contrast to the rest of her family, Regan has always lived in the “quiet place” that they all now inhabit: she has been deaf since birth, and her cochlear implants are faulty. Krasinski expertly displays Regan’s deafness by alternating close ups of her with Beau, and using the background noise, or lack thereof, to distinguish between their two auditory universes. With Beau, the audience hears the wind and the rustling of the trees in the background, but when we focus on Regan, all sound ceases, and the audience is left with the queasy, nervous feeling experienced during periods of extended, uncomfortable silence. In these mute moments, everything the audience does is amplified tenfold: someone fidgeting in his chair sends out a loud sound of squeaking leather, popcorn chewing sounds as grating as glass shattering. Such was the case at the end of the first sequence, when a toy rocket ship that Beau picked up in the store goes off whilst the family is walking down a forest past. As Lee Abbott (John Krasinski) silently runs towards his child, we hear a rustling in the woods, trees falling, branches cracking, and boom: the monster appears for a brief second, snatches the infant, and the screen cuts to black, back to silence.
You feel like you’re in an airplane and your ears will not pop. Yet, the constant silence also pushes forward and subverts the horror trope of the jump scare. Because of the quiet’s perpetuity throughout the film, the audience is completely unsure of whether something will pop out, or if the scene will continue normally. This creates a sense of constant unease that boosts the overall impact of when those jump scares do occur. However, what actually freaks the audience out is not the monster itself, but the jarring effect of a “loud” sound of an everyday object (a picture frame breaking, an oil lamp falling). In this respect, you have to tip your hat off to the sound technicians behind this film for being able to perfectly oscillate between eerie silence and body-shuddering auditory intensity.
A Quiet Place is not, at the end of the day, a philosophically heightened film. It has plenty of plot holes: where do the monsters come from? Why would Emily Blunt want to bring a kid into this dangerous world? Why are there other survivors, and do they interact with each other? However, it does have two other redeeming qualities aside from its sound design. First, the monsters are quite well rendered: they are blind and hungry, they have impenetrable armor, long arms, and razor-sharp teeth, and their intricate ear canals bestow them with extremely powerful hearing capabilities. Though their presence in the film harkens back to Alien, they are just original enough to be bone-rattling and fear-inducing. Secondly, what makes A Quiet Place different from most popcorn feeder, monster/horror/thriller films is its emotional capacity. At the root of the film is a struggle to keep together a family whose members suppress their individual voices for the sake of the group’s survival, and a desire to communicate love without verbally communicating at all.
For Krasinski, this is a career milestone; he made a quiet film roar loudly at the box office. For the audience, if you want your palms to sweat, to revel in uncomfortable silences, and to lose your breath while simultaneously witnessing expert camerawork and sound technique, this film is for you. Word to the wise: you will want to avoid the concession stand. Buncha-crunch will finally live up to its name in the theater setting of A Quiet Place.