Directed by John Krasinski (2018)
by Sandy DeVito
A Quiet Place has, most readily, sequences of high tension that help it come quite close to feeling like a cohesive narrative, mostly by simply dragging you along at a break-neck pace, but after the credits rolled I found myself remembering more and more that is either clumsily executed, feels incomplete, or is just too basic and vague to leave a lasting impact. Like last year's It Comes At Night, we are thrust immediately into the post-apoc world of Krasinski's film without our footing, trusting the narrative to give us clues in time. Most of the major bits of exposition in the first twenty minutes are given to us, literally, on a dry-erase board. Call me picky, but I wanted more, and I wanted it more creatively.
What should we call this sub-genre? Familial melodrama horror? The marketing campaign did a lot to stir the pot about the mystery of the creatures, but we get a glimpse of one at the end of the opening scene of the film. Sure, we don't get a good look at it until later, but we get the idea. At least this film has genuine monsters, unlike Night; this is a lot more fun to watch, and a lot more engaging than that film was for me. I enjoyed the fact that as the film wore on, the audience I watched it with began to seemingly adopt the uber-quiet habits of the characters; there was less sifting of popcorn, less coughing, less shifting in seats. My audience seemed to hold its breath; for a film to have an almost immediate effect on its patrons in this way was noticeable. The premise feels stretched, however, a prime concept for a short film, and frankly, paced much like a short film as well, with a continued lack of detail. I think the thing that bothered me about this the most was the emphasis on the family's relationships, which we are likewise thrust into without ever really knowing them. We are immediately given the burden of the expectation of care without any of the work necessary to breed empathy in us. I wondered how deaf people will feel about this film and the way it handles Regan (Millicent Simmonds)'s deafness in the wider context of a forced silence. Her 'otherness' is emphasized in the narrative several times, for instance, by her supposedly blaming herself for her brother's death; but why? Why would she blame herself, and why would anyone else? It seemed like a way to single her out to later make a hero of her, but why did she have to be downtrodden at all? I guess my feeling is, marginalized people can't be empowered if they're constantly being singled out, their flaws pointed to with a red arrow. Maybe I'm way off base here; maybe deaf people will feel seen in this film. I felt repeatedly unsure.
I'm really tired of narratives glossing over childbirth as if it's a moment of pain and then the baby just flies out of you. How could they not be using protection in such a high-stakes, dangerous climate? They didn't think to pick up condoms on one of their trips into the deserted town? The whole idea of trying to replace a dead child with another left a bad feeling in my gut. The idea seems to be romanticized, as if such a thing is truly possible, even good, everything falling neatly into place (Regan discovering the monsters' aversion to high-pitched sound right as the baby is born?) at just the right time. The suspension of disbelief in this film had me doing mental cartwheels. One of the worst moments of this is a newspaper clipping proclaiming the monsters are "INDESTRUCTIBLE!" with a soldier trying to pellet one with bullets, and then a scene later, Emily Blunt blows the head off one with a shotgun. So which is it? Guns work against them, or they don't?
The fast pace at least ensures that the film is never boring, specifically in the second half, where the whole thing really gets some grease under it. The pace is so hellbent that in context the plot holes sort of fall out of your mind before you have a chance to really contemplate them (why leave the nail sticking up on the stairs if your bag got caught on it? Why did Regan's hearing aid stop working just in time for the monster to kill her dad, and then it starts working again?). The film nods to lots of other genre fare (one of the monsters attacking the kids in the car rang of Jurassic Park, and the flowery design of their faces reminded me of Stranger Things), which is fine, but these nods occasionally feel like filler in place of doing something more unique or interesting. I did like the shell-like interior of the monsters' giant, pulsating ears.
I appreciate a lot of what the film attempts rather than feeling strongly that it succeeds in those attempts. I appreciate sincere emotions, but I don't appreciate being expected to care without a film helping me feel something. Blunt, in particular, is stellar, harnessing extreme swings in emotion with what seems an effortless ease, and there are some moments that are well wrought (the end scene in particular is almost gleeful, though I felt the film ended just when I was finally deeply invested in this mother/daughter duo of hardcore no-fucks-left-to-give) but in the end the project feels more like a rough draft than a cohesive, emotionally mature visual story. Maybe if John Krasinski had made this further down the road, he would have been able to tell its story a bit more interestingly. Or maybe the director's chair should have just gone to Emily Blunt.