Saturday Features

Not a peep

  • A combination of a good script, great actors and just the right brand of visual style and sound effects, John Krasinski’s new A Quiet Place will have you all stressed out and fidgety—in the best way possible
- OBIE SHRESTHA
Where most such films would have zoomed out, A Quiet Place maintains a fixed focus on this one family… That deliberate narrowing of scope pays off in spades, allowing for precious intimacy with the subjects and detailing of interactions

Apr 14, 2018-You know you’re watching a masterful horror when the knowledge of an errant nail poking out of the floorboards fills you with as much (if not more) dread as a glimpse of the many-fanged entities at the centre of all the fuss.

The new A Quiet Place—directed and co-written by, and starring, John Krasinski (you might remember him better as Jim from The Office)—is one of the more effective efforts in the genre that I’ve personally seen in a long while, a taut, economical and yes, pretty darned scary little number. 

And it all unfolds with the most minimal of dialogue—I’m talking barely a page or two of lines for the entirety of running time—because, true to its title, silence is key to the film’s design.

One can imagine how producer Michael Bay must have felt about that constraint, but Krasinski seems to have wrested most of the creative control, and thank god for that.

A combination of a good script, great actors and just the right brand of visual style and sound effects, A Quiet Place will have you all stressed out and fidgety, in the best way possible, till the very end.

It’s been 89 days since some form of terrible, seemingly global-scale calamity has hit—an alien invasion, most likely, though we’re never told for sure—and we meet a family, the Abbotts, as they root about a ruined, abandoned store to stock up on some essentials.

We have the parents, Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and Lee (Krasinski), and their three kids, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe) and little Beau (Cade Woodward).

They’re being awfully, unnaturally quiet though, tiptoeing around, mouthing words and gesturing to one another—and we soon learn that this is all part of survival; silence is a matter of life or death, in this new reality.

You see, these creatures, whatever they are, that have presumably overrun the world, are especially sensitive to sound: Make a peep, and you’re a goner. The only reason the Abbots appear to have lasted this long is because Regan is hearing-impaired, which means they’re all well-versed in sign language and used to communicating non-verbally. But they’re human, after all, and mistakes are bound to happen, and they soon learn just how costly one small slip-up can be.

We then rejoin the family a year or so later, and find that they’ve settled into their new lives, to the extent possible. But they’re still haunted by the tragic happenings of not so long ago, and ever on the alert for prowling beasties.

And the close quarters and limitations of such a strained existence are beginning to grate on some of their relationships—particularly that between Lee and Regan, the latter of whom is sick of being over-sheltered.

This is not a good time for such fractures; Evelyn is pregnant, and well, few babies come into the world quietly. Although they’ve made what preparations they can, as her due date approaches, one can’t escape the feeling of marching towards imminent, inevitable doom. 

Movies have been peddling these post-apocalyptic, end-of-humanity type scenarios for practically ages, so the basic premise of A Quiet Place isn’t especially difficult to settle into.

But what sets the film apart is the nature of the restriction it has chosen to work with—namely, silence as survival. Watching the Abbots struggle to muffle the sounds—involuntary and otherwise—of everyday life makes us keenly aware of what plodding, ungainly creatures we humans are, and therefore the magnitude of the task our characters are up against.

The absence of the persistent buzz of dialogue also reminds us, by sheer contrast, of how relentlessly noisy our films have become. 

At its core, though, Krasinski’s film is about the challenges of parenthood, the push and pull between wanting one’s children to learn to navigate a world gone increasingly hostile and topsy-turvy on their own—and the primal, instinctive need to just throw yourself over them blanket-like and shield them from harm.

“Who are we if we can’t protect them?” Evelyn asks of Lee at one particularly taxing moment in the film. And no one better embodies this dilemma than Regan—played by the wonderfully, impossibly natural Simmonds, the deaf actress of Wonderstruck fame—whose disability means her activities are even more constricted than that of her siblings, and who is at an age where she’s begun to resent being babied and underestimated, raring to flex her wings.

That A Quiet Place is able to largely show, rather than tell, all this is among its many triumphs. Where most such films would have zoomed out to a wider, global or at least US-wide perspective of an infestation or attack, this one maintains a fixed focus on this one family and its trials—we have little idea of what’s going on elsewhere; no scenes of New York City under siege here, folks.

That deliberate narrowing of scope pays off in spades, allowing for precious intimacy and engagement with the subjects and better detailing of interactions between them. Adding to that is the fact that the film is replete with close-ups of the characters’ faces—and such expressive ones at that! Simmonds might be the stand-out, but she’s in great company: Real-life couple Blunt and Krasinski are believable as the parents trying to do their best by their children while under incredible duress—Blunt, in particular, is an absolute force, a mass of complex, roiling emotions—and young Jupe holds up his end well enough.

 

Of course, it’s tempting to poke at the holes in A Quiet Place’s logic, to quiz the possibility of being really, truly quiet for so long. What about sneezes, or hiccups, or burps, or the sounds of other, even less glamorous, bodily functions? What when they have to take showers, wash clothes? And how did they ever manage to build this elaborate home set-up without once alerting the monsters?—there must have been some hammering involved at the very least. But dwelling on this stuff will only spoil your own fun—this is the sort of film you just need to run with, and Krasinski and his team enable that, creating the sort of consistently tense, deeply immersive atmosphere that is difficult to disengage from, much less ask questions of, at least while you’re watching. 

 

Published: 14-04-2018 08:11

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