Sunday, April 8, 2018

Review: "A Quiet Place" brings ambition and tension to the horror genre.

A Quiet Place Review

Warning; This review will contain minor spoilers, you've been warned.

I actually didn't know this, but John Krasinski directed two films before making "A Quiet Place," he directed "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men" in 2009 and "The Hollars" in 2016. I saw neither of them, and now that I have seen "A Quiet Place," I want to track them down as soon as possible. Krasinski has some real muscle as a director, and its clear from the opening moments of "A Quiet Place" that he was planning to go big with this, and all of that ambition payed off.

We are kind of living in a stand-still as far as creativity in Hollywood right now. There used to be a time when creativity and monetary profit went hand in hand, but its clear that those days are over. Every studio is trying to cash in on their big franchise, and even horror movies are beginning to go in this direction. Something that feels new in the movie theater is a rarity these days, so when something like "A Quiet Place" hits theaters, its bracing. It's a great movie to see in a theater. Because the audience reactions are going to be half the fun. If you have any interest to see this, see as early as possible at your favorite theater. Bring as many friends as you can. Because the audiences reactions will deliver on nearly every front. 

If you want conventional storytelling from your movies, then you should most likely skip this. The movie opens on a title card that reads "Day 89" and we are dropped into an abandoned town. There is a barefoot family raiding a convenience store for supplies. There is the mother, Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt), her husband Lee (John Krasinski), and their three children; Regan (Millicent Simmonds), the oldest and deaf child, Marcus (Noah Lupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward). Beau wants a rocket ship, but Lee immediately takes the batteries out and says in sign language that the toy is too loud. In fact, the whole family is speaking sign language and walking on their tip-toes. As the family begins to leave, Regan gives Beau the rocket ship with the batteries intact, just to be good to her little brother. On their way forward, the rocket ship goes off. Evelyn begins to cry, Lee begins to run and before anyone knows it, Beau is killed by a barely-seen, creature.

Yep, a child dies in the opening moments of the film.

That set me on edge. Not only because despite being in the horror genre, there are still many rules that horror movies are "supposed" to follow. Killing children is too terrible, so many horror films avoid it. So, when something comes along and offs one of its kids in the first ten minutes, its something to note. It also became quite clear that John Krasinski was doing anything by half-measures here. The best horror movies don't play coy when they are leading you into the darkness. Its clear that Krasinski as director has fully embraced that notion. Don't let the PG-13 rating fool you. Krasinski is out to hurt you, he wants this horror movie to matter. 

And no, the whole movie isn't exploitation and shock value in order to come off edgy. There is actually a story being told here. It quickly becomes clear that its not really about surviving something awful, but what can happen when a family doesn't talk to each other. It's never explained who the monsters are, where they came from and why they attacked us. But in the end, its irrelevant. I live smack dab in the Midwest, and I know very few people, if any at all, who have links to the government. If an alien invasion went down, there would be no way I'd learn any details. I also doubt that if an alien invasion were to occur, EVERYONE would be at ground zero at the exact same time. (Like, say, "Independence Day") People would be scattered across the planet, not having the answers, just desperate to survive. That's what "A Quiet Place" is about. These blind monsters hunt using their ears, so the Abbotts have created a home and a new world completely devoid of sound. Krasinski is patient and articulate to introduce the world the Abbotts have created in order to keep them safe. They've built a new normal, but even that normal has flaws. Regan feels responsible for Beau's death, and she feels like her parents don't love her anymore. For a situation that is already difficult to discuss, how do you even begin if simply knocking over a candle means your doom?

The performances are great all around. There is barely any speaking in the movie. There are moments of tremendous quiet in the movie, so powerful that the silence easily becomes a character in the movie. There is also quite a bit of sign language in the film, but stepping out of the world of sound, the movie is still effective in the way it creates great tension with no talking. There is a moment when a pregnant Evelyn is literally giving birth in her bathtub, while a monster is in her house hunting her. I know its early, but I am willing to bet we don't get a more tense moment in a thriller the rest of the year. Maybe we will, but I wonder just how well they'll compare to this. The scene is that good, Blunt sells it completely and it had me on the edge of my seat. 

The only real hang-up I had is quite a small one. The monsters, or aliens, or demons or whatever the hell their supposed to be, are not interesting look-wise. It seems we are in a design stump when it comes to monsters and aliens and the like. Everything looks the same now. If I was pressed to describe the monsters, they are like miniature Cloverfield monsters with no eyes and teeth like Venom from Spider-Man comics. There are tons of movies that are beginning to adopt designs either exactly like this or pretty close. Don't get me wrong, they are menacing. But I can't lie and say that they don't seem like things I've seen already.

In a genre that doesn't seem to take many chances anymore, "A Quiet Place" is an astounding triumph. John Krasinski as director hits every grace note with aplomb. The movie looks great, and the chills and thrills laced within are going to make you want to crawl out of your skin. This is a pulse-pounding thriller. Its also one of those strange examples of the MPAA rating system. It's rating is PG-13, but it certainly didn't feel like it. 


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