A Quiet Place is part genre film, part social experiment. It’s been widely praised as a great film, but also a film that requires its audience to take it seriously. In many ways, this is probably the best thing you could possibly say about the film. While most horror films play on audience expectations, and produce an involuntary gasp or scream at an unexpected moment, A Quiet Place does the opposite—it forces you to shut the hell up. I can’t remember a film to ever be so effective in setting such a hard rule for audience members. Getting the audience to respect a film like that heavily shades their viewing experience and makes everything that much more intense. I would be remiss if I were to take that for granted, because it is truly a unique quality of the film. That being said, when you start to look beyond this there's a lot more about A Quiet Place to discuss.
On a general level, A Quiet Place is a transcendent indie film. It’s certainly an underdog of sorts considering it’s limited marketing campaign and the timing of it’s Spring release (not necessarily an indicator of great confidence for a genre film). But on another level, it’s a film starring two ultra-recognizable movie stars (John Krasinski and Emily Blunt) with a budget of seventeen million dollars. This is again, another way that A Quiet Place shades your experience. You start the film with low expectations, because of the type of release that it is, and then when it exceeds expectations, you're more surprised than you would be otherwise.
The film is set in a world inhabited by monstrous aliens that have hunted most of humanity to the point of extinction—the gimmick is that they’re acutely sensitive to sound. Lee and Evelyn Abbot (John Krasinski, Emily Blunt) and their two children Reagan and Marcus Abbot (Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe) are survivors who have managed to create a life of general silence and in doing so, avoid death at the hands of these dog-like predators. Across the board, the acting of this ensemble is impeccable, but Emily Blunt is the glue that holds the film together. Her virtually silent performances in moments of intense pain and crises, in line with the audience’s bated breath, is where you feel the most dramatic moments of the film. From stepping on a nail in the floor, to giving birth in a bath tub, her struggle and pain, is truly what defines the film. And while the acting does a great deal of heavy lifting, it’s not enough to pull A Quiet Place out of it’s intensely genre influenced roots.
At it’s worst, A Quiet Place leans on cheap filmmaking techniques, jump scares, and convenient writing for dramatic moments. After a first watch, this should be the general critique. Not because there’s anything wrong with genre filmmaking, but because there’s simply no need for such moments. The concept itself is so effective at creating pressure-cooker moments that these cheap scares come off as cheaper than they may be in a lesser film. I believe that critique is solid, but it’s also worth noting that the silence that pervades the film may be less effective if it were not for those kinds of moments adding some dynamics to the sound. Regardless, if you dislike jump scares, A Quiet Place might frustrate you (over, and over again), and the film gains very little from any of these moments.
What makes A Quiet Place an interesting film after your initial experience aren’t these sensory experiments. It’s the direct thematic access the film gives you to it's conceptual core. The silence that each character must obsessively keep works effectively for the narrative and creates intensity, but it’s so effective as a thematic device in 2018. This theme marks one of the more lovely moments of the film, where Lee Abbot takes his son Marcus to a waterfall. The waterfall’s sound allows them to speak freely. The levity is not long lived, but it’s much needed, and effective. And A Quiet Place is littered with moments like this, where the theme is glanced at, but never heavily considered. The film is better off with this relationship to it's core theme. It hands you the keys, but doesn't force you over-think it.
Horror is already a genre that relies so much on the audience from scene to scene. It plays with you and, when effective, evokes intense reactions out of you. There are very few in the genre that are more effective at that than A Quiet Place. In that way, A Quiet Place is essential viewing for horror fans. But in all of it’s clear success, it’s unable to fully break away from the techniques that classically malign the genre in the eyes of outsiders. In my eyes, this demonstrates lack of vision. In other’s it could be easily just be out of respect for classic horror. But regardless, despite it’s transcendent themes and narrative devices, it’s unable to transcend the confines of it’s genre. This makes A Quiet Place an unmissable genre film, but not a film that brings new fans to horror.
First Impression: 75
Technical Excellence: 60
Lasting Impression: 60
Overall Score: 70.75
Bret Hoy is the creator and co-editor of Monolith Medium, an award winning filmmaker, and writer.