With an “8.0” rating on IMDB and a 95% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes (85% audience score) it’s clear that John Krasinski’s directorial debut A Quiet Place has been well received by both audiences and critics alike, and is being hailed as one of the greatest horror movies of all time.
I must concede, when I saw the movie in the cinema I was never bored at any time and found many aspects of the film to be greatly enjoyable, I did not however, at any moment believe that I was witnessing one of the best horror movies of the 2010’s.
There are certain modern classics, such as Django Unchained or Wall-E which I can look back and say that I was there to see it on the big screen (in the same way that my father can boast that he saw Rocky, The Godfather and Jaws in theatre). I was there to see film history in those instances, but does A Quiet Place compare, the short answer, from my own personal opinion is no.
I would be doing the film, and anyone who is interested in seeing the film, or just in film in general, a great disservice to say that it is a bad film, because it certainly isn’t. The filmography in general is to a high standard, first and foremost, the film looks good, though with a budget of 17 million dollars you’d hope that would be the case.
The film is almost a character study of a family living in a post-apocalyptic world where most of humanity have been wiped out by near indestructible creatures which hunt via sound alone. These creatures are never given an official name (they are at one point coined “Angels of death” but this is never confirmed) but who needs an arbitrary name, if The Thing, The Descent and Predator can do it, then why not A Quiet Place.
These monsters are established as being ruthless hunters, who have wiped out most of mankind and much of Earth’s wildlife simultaneously, what are they exactly, where did they come from? It’s not really necessary to the plot, and I’m actually glad the writers didn’t try to give them some contrived origin story, be it extra-terrestrial, biblical, demonic or other, they’re here and they’re deadly, that’s enough.
The design of the monsters isn’t exactly inspiring, almost like a giant black preying-mantis with a horrific looking giant ear, which is concealed behind a layer of flesh, the flesh lifts up in a truly disgusting fashion to reveal this ear, chunks of flesh attached to pink tendrils, easily the best part of the monster’s design. Other than that, big teeth, big claws, moves quickly, nothing special really.
Now I don’t expect Alien or The Thing levels of monster design for every horror movie, and the relatively lacklustre design of the monsters doesn’t detract from the movie, but certainly better than most sub-par horror releases of the last few years.
We follow a family of five as they try to survive in this world and, where even the slightest sound can attract these monsters, which are far too fast to run from and are said to be indestructible. The brutality of this world is shown to us in the first five minutes when the youngest child of this family is killed by one of these creatures after he decides to pick up a battery powered toy rocket that makes a lot of noise, not only does the death of the characters youngest son and sibling set up just how cut-throat this world is, and it also sets up conflict for the rest of the film.
I liked this opening, it introduced the world, characters, nature of the world, conflicts and allowed us to empathise with the characters we are going to be following. However, it must be said, the film dives in mediocrity from here on out.
One major plot point is that the eldest child and only daughter is deaf, not a bad idea, a good juxtaposition between our lead character and the monsters, creatures which hunt purely by sound up against a girl who can’t hear anything, she isn’t even aware of the sound she could be making. This does explain how the family would know sign language (their main method of communication) and is relevant to the plot later on. I liked this idea, and it’s shown well with the film going completely silent when we follow the daughter, near the beginning of the film, so we can hear what she hears.
Another main point is that the mother is pregnant. I really liked this aspect, in theory, a world where monsters will tear you apart if you make even the slightest sound, and there’s a nine-month pregnant woman who has to help her husband try and protect her two other children and teach them how to protect themselves. This is played quite well, the visual acting really pulls through, you can see on the character’s faces that they know that they are most likely going to lose their mother and wife, as the process of giving birth will obviously be extremely loud, and you can see that all the characters know that the day she gives birth is coming, and with the wound of losing the youngest member of their family so fresh in all their minds, could they really cope with losing another family member.
However this ends up being pushed aside because the film decides to give each character their own sub-plot, a film about a pregnant woman in a world where silence is key for survival is a truly brilliant idea, it could play with the idea that humanity may not physically be able to survive or re-populate, it plays heavily on the family dynamic and you could have a truly masterful climax where the rest of the family have to try and protect the mother, as well as trying to keep themselves alive.
But unfortunately it has to compete with other subplots; the father trying to protect his family and pass the torch to his son, the son trying to live up to his father’s teachings and conquer his fear, the daughter’s grief of playing a part in her brother’s death and being at constant loggerheads with her father, as well as coping with being a constant liability to her family due to her not being able to know if she’s making sound or not.
These plots could be worked in subtly, but they’re not, the birth scene takes less than five minutes, and once it’s over the focus is never on protecting the new-born or the mother’s recovery.
I have never seen such a good concept or driving plot device be dropped so quickly, in the film’s third act it’s not even an issue, why build up to this moment for almost an hour then have it be over and done with in less than fives minutes, it was truly a waste of a fantastic idea.
The second act splits the characters up, the father and son go to collect fish from a nearby river, the daughter goes to visit the grave of the brother she lost, and the mother is at home preparing for the baby and doing a few chores.
The father and son parts are okay, for the most part, we learn that the creatures ignore constant sounds, like a river or waterfall, the characters can afford to make a bit more noise around running water.
It’s here where we get the first lines of dialogue and they are atrocious. The son says in two instances: “Do you blame Regan [his sister] for Beau’s [his brother]”, but we already know, through signed-dialogue earlier, in the movie that he doesn’t blame her. He then goes on to say, “She blames herself”, we already know this, it’s highlighted through the entire film that she blames herself for her brother’s death. In a film based around silence, you’d expect the little dialogue there is to be extremely poignant, but no, we get told what we already know.
The father and son then walk back through the woods, they encounter an old man who is standing next to his dead wife, the father tries to mime to him to be quiet, but the man is either inane or cannot possibly live without his wife anymore, and screams, essentially committing suicide, forcing the father and son to run and hide. I actually like random encounters like this in films, it’s a crazy world full of invincible super-predators that hunt via sound, I can accept the odd random scene, and we can decide for ourselves if he killed his wife, maybe to put her out of his misery and spare her from the monsters, or if he really loved her that much. Good piece of film making capitalising on the audience’s imagination.
Meanwhile, back at the farm, the mother, while doing chores accidently catches a piece of cloth on a nail on the stairs and pulls it up so that it is pointing up menacingly, if someone was to step on it they would surely scream in agony. Why a nail has been nailed up through a set of stairs, I don’t know, but that’s a bit of a nit-pick. In a peril packed few scenes, the mother goes into labour and steps on the nail.
Peril, peril, peril; bad luck can be an interesting idea to toy with, but come on, this a movie about unstoppable super-predators, why shove so much unnecessary peril into this film, and just to clarify, when I say peril I am referring too: old man in the woods screaming, wife going into labour, wife stepping on a nail, son falling into a corn silo and almost drowning in corn, son running head first into a tractor and knocking himself out, a sound proof basement they had just finished building flooding, all three monsters converging upon them at once, daughter falling asleep and not knowing her mother is in danger. Why throw so much bad luck at them, like I said can be an interesting idea to toy with, but they never do, this stuff just happens, basically to move the plot on and for really no other reason.
The climax of the film involves the father trying to rescue the children, who are isolated on the other side of their farm.
The father rushes to save them, but his kids are then attacked by one of the monsters which traps them in a car and is seconds from tearing the car apart and killing them both, when the father decides to make the ultimate sacrifice and distract the monster from his kids, but not before signing to his daughter that he loves her. A scene where the leading male sacrifices himself for others, not to be a meninist or anti-feminist or anything, but I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen this particular cliché in horror films (again bit of a nit-pick), but then again, there are enough nit-picks or flaws to point out in this film that lead me to believe that it is not one of the best horror movies ever made.
One major flaw in my eyes is the spoken dialogue, as I said a film that capitalises on silence, you’d think the few spoken lines would be important but again, the only other spoken lines involve the father and mother sitting in a sound-proof basement, where the mother say’s “Promise me you’ll protect them [referring to the kids]”. He’s been doing that for the entire film, she even says signed earlier in the film “he just wants to show you how to protect yourself, and me”, she and the audience knows he is protecting them. She has just given birth, it’s not unfair of her to ask her husband to stay and protect her and the new-born baby, he can then say that he needs to protect their other two kids, this would get across the same message and could be used to show how relieved they are that she managed to give birth and wasn’t torn apart, miracle of birth accompanied by the miracle of not being eaten by monsters.
Another flaw of the film is the sound-proof basement, it just shows up half way through the film and it just works, surely the characters would be banking on this as it would allow them to be as loud as they wanted, and the mother could have given birth in there, it’s just introduced half way though and as soon as we see it, a broken pipe floods it, and it’s gone as quickly as it appears. Apart from letting the characters speak for a bit, it serves no purpose, and throughout the film we see that the father is trying to think of ways to kill the creatures, and they have backup plans to help distract the monsters if they ever attacked, a sound proofed room would be like a palace in this world, why relegate it to just a footnote of the plot, and then get rid of it.
One of the biggest problems with the film, is how they finally manage to work out the creature’s weaknesses, the daughter’s new hearing aid, that her father invented, produces a high frequency sound that hurt the monsters, and while their reacting to the sound they are exposed enough for the mother to shoot them with a shotgun and kill them.
Firstly bullets, bullets kill the monsters, what a great way to bring the creatures down to the most mundane level, like a boss fight in a game, weaken the creature and then inflict massive damage, I can’t help feeling they could have been a bit more inventive with this. But the biggest problem is how the daughter works out that her hearing aid will hurt them. We, the audience, see earlier in the film that when her hearing aid plays up it hurts the monsters, but in both these instances the daughter never sees this, she would logically have no idea that this would work, and the family have speakers, loud ones which they project the sound through. Why didn’t they use them, we already established that the river makes constant enough sound that the monsters ignore it, record the river and play it through the speakers, it’s already shown that they use distractions to keep themselves safe, but not one of them thought to use the devices built to produce loud sounds.
Leading on from this we get the final scene where we see the last two creatures running towards the family, the mother nods to the daughter and cocks the shotgun, as they now know their weakness. Great to see our family finally fight back, but what a lame ending, all this character building and we get a “let’s do this” moment. Okay it’s not the worst ending, and is better than all of them dying or them just killing the other two in a bloodbath, but this film shows us characters who play it safe 24/7, and have seen the consequences in the worst possible way, why would they risk their new-born son/brother after losing their father. This “badass” moment comes out of nowhere, never mind all of that character building, they’re badass monster killers now.
All in all, it’s not a terrible movie it really isn’t but it isn’t great, and the biggest crime it commits is that it isn’t scary. At all, it’s essentially a soft action movie, I get maybe some kids would be scared by the monsters, but it’s rated 15 (UK), they marketed it at adults, and failed to scare anybody, nobody I know who’s seen it has said they found it scary. It was essentially an hour and forty-five-minute-long Doctor Who or Supernatural episode, for a 17 million dollar movie they could have done a lot better.