Shhh!

A Quiet Place (John Krasinski, 2018)

A few years ago, Tim Lebbon wrote a novel about a subterranean species who had been living in a cave system and hunted by sound. When disturbed, they start attacking and killing humans, until society collapses. A family, including a hearing impaired person, try to find a safe place to survive.

Perhaps no plot is entirely original and it’s the kind of primeval horror narrative used by some of the better nu-Who episodes; in a situation where no one is safe to speak, a person with hearing difficulties is an obvious character to reach for. In A Quiet Place, we begin with a white, apparently religious family, forty something days into the crisis, foraging for food in abandoned supermarkets in upstate New York. There are two parents and three children, and one of them has to die, splatted by a monster. We skip to a year later and Evelyn, the mother, is heavily pregnant, whilst still evidently grieving. We see her preparing a (hopefully) soundproof box for her baby; giving birth will be noisy, a newborn cannot be told not to cry. Meanwhile the fragmentation of guilt and blame may cause characters to be stupid and behave dangerously.

It’s rare for a Michael Bay film to be quiet, but Krasinki directs himself and his cast in what becomes a relentlessly stressful narrative. Characters have to freeze as the monsters hunt, we can see monsters that the characters can’t and we can see the tripwire that will sound the alarm. If anything, the scriptwriters cranked up a little too many of the what-could-go-wrong-here moments – there’s a flood that doesn’t make physical sense beyond adding jeopardy. The monsters look convincing enough, but perhaps too close to the Alien franchise to be entirely convincing. I was also reminded of Monsters, but whilst here we have some startling imagery of abandoned rural New York State (and can you see a field of corn without thinking of Theresa May?), there it was sublime and there was some attempt to go beyond pure monstrosity.

The only monster back story is here conveyed through newspaper headlines – although I was never entirely happy with some of the textual options used by Monsters — and so we know little more than the survivors do. I suspect this will be fleshed out in an announced sequel. Meanwhile the aliens turn out to have an Achilles’ Heel – as all have since at least Wells – and this is a little too convenient for the narrative, a little too neat. For once, however, a film that is economically told and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Bay should observe and learn.

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