Yesterday I went to see A Quiet Place at the cinema with slight trepidation. Not because it was an absurdly sunny day to be going to the cinema but because I’m pretty shit at watching horror films.
Don’t get me wrong, I do love a scary movie. I’ve completely geeked out over many of them, from the masterpieces (The Shining), to the divisive (Paranormal Activity) to the pure unapologetic (Drag Me to Hell).
But as someone who has been known to jump ten feet in the air when the person I live with unexpectedly walks into the room, I have to be in the right frame of mind to take on a horror, otherwise I’ll end up watching the entire thing through my fingers.
So, being stuck in a cinema seat with no escape made me slightly nervous. But as it turns out, it was the best film I’ve watched on the big screen in a long time and I couldn’t tear my eyes away.
Usually when a movie finishes and the end credits roll everyone gets up, eager for fresh air or a toilet break. When A Quiet Place ended, everyone in the theatre remained seated for a while, having to compose themselves for a bit. Then all around I could hear conversations confirming my own thoughts. It was bloody fantastic.
It tells the story of a family trying to survive in a world that’s been ravaged by an alien invasion. It sounds like a pretty generic formula but what makes this film so interesting – and terrifying – is the fact the monsters are blind but have an acute sense of hearing. Therefore we see a mum, dad, teenage daughter and young boy living life as silently as possible, padding barefoot on sand-softened ground, communicating via sign language and the merest of whispers. The mute life is such a killjoy, they even have to play monopoly with soft felt pieces instead of metal dogs and handbags. Ludicrous.
And without giving too much away, there’s an absolute gut-punch of a first scene which shows exactly why they don’t want to be making any noise whatsoever. These creatures do not mess around. They hunt by sound and they hunt fast.
Horrors can sometimes take their time to pick up pace but A Quiet Place gets the balance just right. At 1 hr 30 minutes, it’s not long and doesn’t need to be. The vast majority of it has you on absolute tenterhooks. From the beginning it’s tense and the imminent sense of danger never goes away but things get really interesting when we see the pregnant mum’s due date is just around the corner. Eek.
As far as “how the hell are they going to get out of this one” moments go, a woman experiencing the joys of childbirth a few feet away from a blood-thirsty alien that attacks and rips apart anything that makes a sound louder than the ticking of a clock is definitely up there.
And if you think that sounds a tad ridiculous, let me assure you it’s a scene Emily Blunt performs beautifully. I’ve always considered her a great actress but have never seen her lead in anything quite good enough to give her the credit she’s due. For example, her performance in Girl on a Train was great but the film as a whole was a letdown. In A Quiet Place she’s able to shine brilliantly and so she does among a flawless cast who convincingly convey every thought while barely being able to speak.
Blunt did this so well I felt like I was reading her mind at times. In one scene she puts on a brave face to reassure her young son (played by the talented Noah Jupe) that he’ll be safe. Then as she draws him into a tight hug, her eyes are full of abject terror.
It’s also something of a breakthrough for Blunt’s real-life husband John Krasinski, who stars and directs. Known to most as soft-featured nice guy Jim from the American version of The Office, in this he’s morphed into a rugged, determined protector, who like his wife hides a multitude of grief and terror underneath a strength you just can’t imagine ever having to muster.
It’s also impossible to speak of the cast without giving a special mention to Millicent Simmonds, who plays deaf daughter Regan and is hearing-impaired in real life. Possessing the steely resolution of her on-screen parents with just the right amount of teen angst thrown in, she’s the only member of the main cast who doesn’t utter a single word throughout the entire film. And she doesn’t need to because her expression speaks volumes, breaking any visual equivalent of the decibel meter.
Perhaps one of the creepiest moments of all is centred around the one other adult who appears in the cast for a matter of seconds, in a short yet impactful scene that’s reminiscent of The Hills Have Eyes sort of brand of horror. Father and son are in the woods on a lesson in survival and come across an old fella who’s not having the best of days…
Throughout the film you ask yourself how they’re not completely mad, living the way they do – and this is the moment you get a chilling taste of that insanity erupting.
Having said all that, I don’t even know if I would describe A Quiet Place as a horror, exactly. It’s more of a sci-fi thriller that just so happens to master what many horror films fail to do. It scares the living daylights out of you without being too obvious or predictable and it never resorts to cheap scares.
At one point, not that far in, my boyfriend whispered to me: “I think the guy next to me is having a panic attack” and indeed the poor sod did seem in danger of losing a fingernail or two to his armrest. Similarly, I found myself having physical reactions too. I shed tears and at one point I realised my legs were shaking. But it wasn’t just because I was frightened. I was just so wholly immersed and invested in the characters and what was going to happen to them next.
I guess I cared because at the very core of the film is the absolute, primal love you feel for your own flesh and blood and the lengths you’d go to protect them. And it’s impossible not to root for that.
A Quiet Place is by no means perfect, with a few tiny plot holes here and there. For example, we see a raccoon fall prey to one of the monsters – a raccoon that going by the premise of the film and the time that has passed since the invasion, should not technically exist at that point. Plus there’s the small matter of an alien tearing into a steel tower like a knife through butter then minutes later having a great deal of trouble getting through the roof of an old car. But it’s stuff you can forgive.
The only thing more I can say at this point is just to go watch it to see for yourself.
With a simple yet intriguing concept that’s fantastically executed and a sterling performance from all involved, could this be one of the few coveted horror films to get some Oscar nods? I hope so.