It is not often that a movie makes you afraid to open a pack of twizzlers. The fact that 90% of this movie takes place in a tense silence breaks down the usual comfortable barrier between the audience and the events on screen, until the walls of the theater no longer seem enough to muffle the sounds of your furtive snacking from the massive eardrums of hungry predators. Suffice it to say, the movie is effective. But it is a waste of money to buy movie snacks. They will not be eaten.
What makes “A Quiet Place” is primarily the tone that pervades the entire movie. The events on screen are generally not as important as the possibilities playing themselves out in the audience’s feverished imaginations. It is a classic example of the “show, don’t tell” principle. The viewer is presented facts visually in a straightforward manner, and is left to connect the dots himself. You would be hard-pressed to find a film more free of exposition. More than anything else this is due to the fact that the main characters just cannot speak, but regardless of the reason, it is refreshing to see a movie that assumes the intelligence of the audience and doesn’t feel the need to spoon-feed information. The viewer knows what he needs to know, and is allowed to fill in the gaps himself. It is a good tactic. Movies that do everything for the audience don’t challenge them, and consequently don’t foster any investment in them. Such movies can be entertaining, but rarely great. But “A Quiet Place” from beginning to end fills the audience with a more and more twisted sense of dread, through nothing other than visuals and the extremely sparing and effective use of sound.
We find out at the beginning that there has been some sort of alien invasion of Earth. These aliens are blind, but have extraordinarily acute hearing, and hunt anything that makes a sound. Again, this is something discovered gradually, which comes to a head in a brutal (if clever) scene at the opening of the film. It begins as a scene repeated ad nauseum a thousand times over: someone in imminent peril is saved at the last second. Only, he isn’t. It is an inversion of a cliche that sets the tone for the whole movie. No one is safe. This leads to another twist of the gut when we find that in the family at the center of the story, the mother is pregnant. Nothing is overstated or explained, but the inference is obvious: the new life entering the world could well be the doom of everyone.
The movie is extremely small-scale, especially for an alien invasion film. Although the aliens set the tone, though, the plot actually revolves primarily around the family dynamic at the center. The everyday operations of the family are extremely traditional, only shrouded in the great silence that envelops the movie. The children help their parents with everyday tasks, the mother takes care of the household, the father sets and checks traps that bring food to the table, all in a silent atmosphere that is almost monastic in its reverent simplicity.
Of course, all is not well with the Abbott family. The events of the beginning of the film have led to a strained relationship between father and daughter, leading to tense and frustrating encounters between the two while the father tries to find a way to overcome his daughter’s deafness and keep his family safe. Though remarkably simple, the ever-tightening threads of story are layered in exactly the right place, as the family is the ultimate focus and ultimate message of the movie, each one of them facing a drama that, though simple and commonplace, literally means the difference between life and death. If Lee (John Krasinski) fails as a father, he dooms his family. If Evelyn (Emily Blunt) does not keep her head during her pregnancy and delivery, she dooms her family. If the children disobey their parents, they risk their own safety and that of all around them. The simplest tasks become precisely the most important as the forces of nature bring the family back to its original structure.
In many ways this movie is the opposite of a summer blockbuster. It is small-scale and instead of relying on explosions and booming soundtracks, challenges the viewer to fill the great silence with 90 minutes of rapt attention. And yet, its simplicity is its greatest strength. A simple family, a simple father, a simple story. Simple heroism is the perhaps the most beautiful because it is something that rings true with every one of us, and the tale spun in this movie is a testament to the power of those things that are all too easy to pass over as commonplace. It shows, rather, that those are the only things worth fighting for.