Director – John Krasinski – 2018 – UK – Cert. 15 – 90m
A family live on an isolated farm on an Earth where alien predators hunt by sound – out on DVD, Blu-ray and selected online services
NB This is the original film, not A Quiet Place Part II currently in cinemas.
The world is a changed place. Civilization as we know it has broken down. Earth’s population has been decimated by alien predators. Evelyn Abbot (Emily Blunt) goes through the meds on a shelf in a deserted store in town where her youngest son Beau (Cade Woodward) becomes attracted to a model spaceship because “that’s how we’ll get away from here”. When his dad Lee (John Krasinski, the film’s co-writer and director as well as Blunt’s real life husband) sees this, he removes batteries from the toy and forbids his son to take it. However, his daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) takes pity on Beau and slips it to him when her dad isn’t looking. And in similar fashion, when she isn’t looking the boy also takes the batteries. An act which will have fatal consequences for him and, going forward, a huge impact on the relationship dynamics within this family.
Now the family are moving cross country, barefoot to keep the noise down. Mum and dad, oldest son Marcus (Noah Jupe), Regan and Beau, bringing up the rear. They approach a box girder bridge. Suddenly, there are beeping musical tones. Beau has got the toy out and refitted the batteries. Regan hears nothing. Dad, at the front, turns and runs desperately towards him, but not in time to prevent Beau’s being seized by a swift moving alien predator attracted by the sound.
Not only does this constant threat of seizure by aliens hang over the rest of the film, so too does Regan’s guilt for causing her brother’s death and her fear that her father blames her for it (which he doesn’t).
The reason Regan hears nothing: she is deaf. (As is actress Millicent Simmonds in real life.) Which means the Abbot family have learned over the years to communicate in sign language. Which means that when people have to change their lifestyles to start living more quietly so that the monsters won’t hear them, this family have a huge advantage: they already communicate by signing.
Thus most of what little dialogue there is here is in sign language – with English subtitles. Sound – or lack of it – assumes paramount importance. Something similar briefly occurs when people lose their hearing in that other apocalyptic offering Perfect Sense (David Mackenzie, 2011). And the film makes for a fascinating comparison with musician’s hearing loss tale Sound Of Metal (Darius Marder, 2019). The difference is that in A Quiet Place, the family have been living with deafness for a long time and have already adjusted to dealing with it.
The family settle on a farm. They put markers in the hallway to show where to tread. They improvise sound proofing in the basement. They rig white electric lighting around the farm which can be switched to red in a second should the predators be sighted. With Evelyn pregnant, the couple have even worked out a system to deal with the noise a crying baby will make: a sealable trunk with oxygen cylinder and mask as a soundproof cot in which to put baby.
Various situations arise in regular family life. All the time, the thought of the predators lurks in the background. Dad takes the unenthusiastic son on a fishing trip, showing him a waterfall where the roar of the water means it’s safe to shout. The daughter would have liked to go, but is told to stay at home to look after mum. Instead, she decides to leave home.
Heavily pregnant mum, meanwhile, waters breaking, unwittingly catches a bag on a nail on the basement steps, pulling it into an upright position which means she’s later going to step on it and howl in pain which will be enough to attract a predator. Another scenario will involve family members being trapped with an alien in a silo full of grain in which it would be all too easy to slip underneath the surface of the grain and suffocate.
Underpinning all this, and rendering the film far more effective than it would otherwise be, are the aforementioned family dynamics, particularly between the guilt-ridden daughter and her father who’s never told her he doesn’t think her brother’s death her fault. Dad keeps trying to build a working hearing aid for Regan. These never work and she’s fed up with it. But even so he keeps trying.
Mindful of its minimal budget, the film makes the most of its sparingly used monsters, having them charge rapidly through the frame in daylight so you can’t really see them or staging scenes in dark interiors (e.g. the pregnant Evelyn sequence where the monster comes into first the house, then the basement and finally the upstairs bathroom where she cowers in the tub). And the film ends on a cut to black which suggests that the Abbots and their alien-infested world could potentially be back for a sequel. Although that may not have been on anyone’s mind at the time as it makes for a pretty effective ending.
The other thing that wasn’t on anyone’s mind making this was the global pandemic. In retrospect, though, this is a film about a family in lockdown facing an enemy that could strike any of them down at any time. Which gives it a certain resonance at the present time.
Out on DVD, Blu-ray and selected online services.
Original UK cinema release: Friday, April 5th 2018.