A Quiet Place (US, 2018)

Silence is…

Along with Hereditary (US, 2018), A Quiet Place had a critical buzz that suggested a reanimation of the horror movie; the latter also had the lustre of box office gold. As it turned out I found the former terrible and the latter just about adequate, which no doubt says more about me than the films. While A Quiet Place is conceptually clever, don’t make a noise or peculiar creatures will eviscerate you, and is efficiently directed by John Krasinski (also co-credited with the script and he plays the lead male), there was an emptiness in the film that meant I didn’t care about what happened. Teen horror films, in particular, can suffer from not engaging audiences (me anyway) sufficiently with characters so their inevitable demise is more a relief (we’re nearer the end of the film) than a tragedy. A Quiet Place does not fall into that trap for we are offered a nuclear family, mothered by the charismatic Emily Blunt, and children who are obviously vulnerable. So why didn’t I care?

Seeing a newspaper headline, early in the film, ‘New York in Lockdown’ was somewhat surreal given current pandemic circumstances. That, if anything, should have intensified the horror. While I have no problem with films being ‘only entertainment’ I do like to find more in the text than a sugar-rush. In the case of horror movies this can often be found in the monster, the fearsome Other, and what it represents. In this film the monsters are indeterminate, and their appearance based on slimy creatures not unlike the aliens of the Alien franchise (UK-US, 1979-2017); they have – in effect – big ears and munch anything that makes a sound. They are not creatures from the id; they are not the ‘monstrous feminine’; they are not sexually potent; they are not migrants and so on.

As the monsters don’t represent anything other than necessitating the destruction of civilisation and severe restriction upon the easiest way to communicate, speech, the full weight of the development falls on the family; there has to be more than simply to avoid being turned into bloody mulch. Here the film manufactures conflict between Dad and eldest child, played by the deaf Millicent Simmonds (great to see someone with a disability getting a lead role). Understandably Dad is in ‘survivalist’ mode and this seems to include training up a reluctant son rather than enthusiastic daughter. Why?! We don’t know enough about Dad to understand why he has Neanderthal views on gender and the film fails to articulate why this likeable guy (he tells his wife he’ll take daughter ‘next time’) should be so stupid. By the end of the film it’s clear the whole plot point is exists solely to create an emotional resolution. In this sense it is typical of the film, everything is designed to work in a solipsistic way, the set-ups (for example, Mum’s heavily pregnant, a nail sticking up from the floor) signpost themselves in neon and their whole point is create suspense and thrills. However as they are not sufficiently integrated into the film’s world they stick out as obvious narrative devices.

The only interesting thing I found in the film was the use of silence; most of the dialogue is signed and we understand through subtitles (a subtitled film as a $100m+ hit in North America!). Music is used sparingly and much of the 90 minute running time is spent in silence and this wasn’t comfortable ‘listening’ suggesting how important sound is to the enjoyment of a film normally.

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