I’m sure you’ve heard about the recent movies that revolve around not being able to make noise. Small hits like Hush, Don’t Breathe, and Don’t Speak, have almost become a horror subgenre in the past few years. So it feels inevitable that one would eventually explode and make some real racket at the box office.
Enter A Quiet Place. Ka-Boom!
Taking $50M in the first weekend already makes it a bonafide hit. We’re talking Paranormal Activity / Insidious / The Conjuring numbers - some of the most successful horror franchises of the past decade. Commercial success is not the kind of thing I would usually bringing up in a review – typically because reviews come out at the same time as the film is released. But this film snuck up on me. After hearing the thundering box-office take, I felt like an alien sprinting through the forest to attack the nearest theatre.
I’m glad I did. This was definitely among the tensest 90 minutes I’ve ever sat through. And a big part of that was you. It’s funny how we don’t really appreciate sound until we hear so little of it, but that’s exactly the premise and payoff in A Quiet Place. The film allows for almost no moments of refuge, ever. From the opening frame until the end, there is virtually no reprieve from threat. No gentle piano soundtrack to calm us down, no calming breeze or birds chirping to signal that we’re at rest with nature. Instead, every sound is measured and fearsome. Which makes seeing it in a full theatre all the more pleasurable.
For mainstream audiences, there were certainly elements of the high concept that probably seemed novel. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where creatures attack and kill anything that makes noise. This certainly elevated it from a straight-forward premise of out-maneuvering a murderer when trapped in a house. In fact, the commitment to minimal dialogue throughout made the film closer to a confined space drama like All is Lost. A Quiet Place excels by having some key visuals do a lot of the heavy lifting (and I’m not talking about the lazy corkboard plot device). Visual threats and signals that allow us to use our eyes to follow what’s happening as much as our ears. Cinema is above all else a visual medium (sorry), and so making a narrative that could never be followed just with audio is essential to good storytelling.
That doesn’t mean the filmmaking is abnormally skillful, or even clever. It’s simply committed to the premise and effective. Which feels all too rare, and all the more impressive coming from director John Krasinski, whose two previous films are forgettable dramedies, and who is best known for making smug faces to the camera in The Office. But here, along with his real-life wife Emily Blunt, and with the help of the talented Danish cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen, the film just plain works.
How do you like the sound of that?