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A Quiet Place

I missed yet another theatrical sci-fi movie. The trailers for Annihilation made the movie look like kind of a dumb monster flick, so I didn't rush out to go see it. I only started to hear several weeks later that it might actually be a pretty good sci-fi film. Unfortunately, life happened, my weekends were busy, and I never made it out to the cinema to see it.

So instead, I was invited to see a new horror movie with some friends. A Quiet Place is also a monster flick, but its novel gimmick really helps to set it apart from other monster movies. The gimmick itself isn't even particularly original. Other movies have featured monsters that are especially sensitive to sound. It's the execution of A Quiet Place that sets it apart.

Much like last year's exceptional War for the Planet of the Apes, A Quiet Place's dialogue comes mostly in the form of subtitled sign language, which the family of protagonists already knows because the oldest child (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf. This leads to the movie being palpably quiet for most of its runtime. I say "most" because there's a few moments of punctuated loudness that work effectively. There's also quite a few moments in which artificially-loud noises, sound effects, and musical ques are used to create cheap jump scares.

That last bit was disappointing because when A Quiet Place is cleverly using its sound design to ratchet up tension, it works phenomenally. This comes through most clearly with the deaf daughter. The movie goes almost completely silent whenever it switches to her point of view, with a faint, high-pitched static being the only sound you'll hear. When this is combined with some depth of field effects that make it hard to see clearly what's going on, it really helps to sell the sense of powerlessness and lack of awareness of the character, which ratchets up the tension for the audience.

The daughter is deaf, so the family already knows sign language, and use it throughout the movie.

The diagetic loud noises, such as the toy space shuttle or knocking over the lamp at the beginning of the movie work really well to punctuate the silence and create momentary panic. It's when lazy, cliche horror movie sounds start to come into play that things start to feel cheap. I'm not sure whether to blame this on actor/director John Krasinski, or on producer Michael Bay. I lean towards the latter. It doesn't ruin the movie, but it does weaken it a little.

The lack of noise throughout most of the movie also helps to build an almost ever-increasing sense of tension and anxiety, as there are only a few moments of release. It's not the constant sense of escalation that Christopher Nolan pulled off so expertly with the non-linear presentation of last year's Dunkirk (which was also a slow, quiet movie for most of its runtime), but A Quiet Place does a very good job of using its sound design to grab the audience's attention and keep them on edge throughout. Aside from one asshole who kept yelling about something near the first row (and a coughing fit that I suffered in the middle of the movie), the theater was absolutely silent almost the whole time.

All the actors provide good performances, including (and especially) the children Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe. Apparently, Millicent Simmonds (the actress) is actually deaf, and that certainly doesn't doesn't seem to act as a handicap for her acting ability at all. She'll probably end up getting typecast a lot as "the deaf girl", but the kid can definitely act, so I hope I get to see her again in other movies down the road.

The set designs also mostly do a really good job of selling the world and atmosphere. Again, I have to say "mostly" because there were a few dumb horror cliches in the sets as well. The family follows very rigid routines, and is so meticulous about soundproofing everything that they replaced the Monopoly figures with felt tokens, use leaves for plates, and have a soundproof sleeping-gas chamber prepared for their infant. All of that really helps to establish the setting the drama.

The family takes great pains to sound-proof their daily routines, but do miss some seemingly-obvious things.

But then there's curious omissions, like the fact that they didn't bother to take down glass picture frames that are hanging on walls, or to use rugs or other pads to stifle the creaking of stairs, or take other seemingly obvious steps to try to reduce or eliminate the potential for accidental or incidental sounds that may unnecessarily attract the attention of the monsters. You're human beings, so you're going to cough, sneeze, and fart. Nothing you can do about that. But there's no reason that you should be leaving glass or ceramic or porcelain sitting out anywhere around the house. Again, it's not a deal-breaker, but it's a shame that this stuff slipped through because the rest of the movie is well-enough thought out that these little things are noticeable.

There's also the million dollar question of "Why would anyone let themselves have a baby in this environment?!" Babies almost literally do nothing except for cry and make noise. The movie does establish several times that the family is religious. I think this was to imply that they didn't "decide" to have a baby; rather, their religious beliefs prevented them from using condoms, taking birth control, grabbing some Plan-B from the pharmacy, or otherwise preventing/aborting the pregnancy. The problem was that the movie never really establishes that element of their religiosity, and if that was the intent, then the script was probably way too subtle in that regard. Or maybe they just feel obligated to procreate in order to propagate the now-endangered human race? Who knows?

A Quiet Place is a tightly-crafted, concise, and very well-executed monster movie. If that's what you're looking for, then you'll certainly enjoy it. It's nothing transcendent, so if monster flicks aren't your thing, then I doubt this will win you over. It also plays itself complete straight and serious, so it doesn't have the deconstructionist humorous bent of something like Tremors. At least it doesn't build itself around some silly, non-sensical, Shayamalan-esque "twist", so your enjoyment of the movie is not going to hinge on whether such a "twist" works for you. Again, if you like monster movies (or horror movies in general), then this is definitely a winner.

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