A common criticism of far too many recent horror films is that they rely on cheap jump scares; you know the type, where everything goes quiet and then, in the background, something moves and the soundtrack gives a loud ‘DUNNNN’ which the characters can’t even hear. The masterstroke of A Quiet Place then, is that not only do these sounds occur in the film, but they effectively are the horror. Taking place in the not-so-distant future, the film follows a couple (John Krasinski, who also wrote and directed the film, and Emily Blunt) and their children in a world where they are forced to hide from mysterious creatures which hunt only by sound. The result is less of an out-and-out horror film and more of an exercise in prolonged tension, where even the slightest noise becomes a life or death scenario.
The premise is fairly simple, but definitely original. Where many film-makers may be limited by the lack of sound, Krasinski uses it to his advantage, creating nerve-shreddingly tense set pieces out of the mere hint of creating any noise. It is refreshing to see a film following the example of Get Out in terms of creating an excellent horror film out of an original idea combined with excellent production value stemming despite minimal budget.
This film contains some of the best sound design of any horror film in recent memory, to the extent that I would recommend seeing it in the emptiest screening you can find to avoid any extraneous noise. While the film does have some jump scares, the focus is far more on the tension leading up to them, with only a couple of examples of the previously mentioned cheap, ‘out of nowhere’ loud jumps. The opening scene may be one of the best I’ve seen recently purely for subtle, prolonged terror simply at the possibility of real horror.
The small cast never really extends beyond the family, all of whom give excellent performances in different ways, falling closer to the Shape of Water end of the spectrum rather than Mute in terms of recent silent performances. The child actors look believably terrified, with Millicent Simmons standing out in particular, and John Krasinski providing an unexpectedly emotional heart running throughout the film as the father doing everything he can to protect his family. The standout performance, though, is undoubtedly Emily Blunt who gets most of the best –and most terrifying – scenes and plays them with a palpable amount of fear.
Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s visuals work particularly well in conjunction with the sound design. Scenes are frequently heard from the perspective of the characters, with heartbeats often playing a large part and the camera movement often echoes this, gliding softly along in quieter moments, becoming increasingly frenetic in the faster-paced scenes. Both John Krasinski and Emily Blunt clearly care about the story they’re telling, and this shows through the brilliant directing, with Krasinski managing to mine terror out of actions as simple as walking down some stairs.
At first, some parts of the film may feel slightly predictable, with several moments clearly setting up later scenes. However, this supposed predictability is often exploited by Krasinski and fellow screenwriters Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, when these elements are later used to heighten already tense scenes. At a short hour and a half, the film doesn’t try to go on any longer than it needs to, although the ending, while it is set up well through the film, can’t help but feel a tad rushed. This is just a minor complaint though, and it doesn’t do anything to spoil the excellent majority of the film beforehand.
A Quiet Place may not be perfect, but it would take a lot of nit-picking to claim that a couple of moments ruin the entire film. And when it works – as it does for most of its runtime – it works brilliantly, resulting in one of the most tense and uncomfortable horror films in recent memory.
Words by Adam Wells