Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Not Staying Silent About “A Quiet Place”

Last year it was Jordan Peele’s Get Out. This year’s current box-office favorite is another modestly budgeted horror flick, John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place. Here’s another case of a well-liked performer (best known until now as the lovestruck Jim on TV’s The Office) branching out into writing and directing, with impressive results. True, A Quiet Place is not a cultural bombshell in the way that Get Out most certainly was. But what Krasinski has achieved is a well-paced little chiller that has audiences on the edge of their seats. 

I came from the Roger Corman world, and so I certainly know my way around horror films and thrillers. (Many of the 170 films on which I worked fall into those categories.) We who know the ins and outs of low-budget filmmaking are well aware that horror is a great place for a novice filmmaker to start. The genre has many built-in fans who expect nothing more than a few good scares. You can shoot an effective horror film with a small cast and a limited number of locations. A Quiet Place enlists a total of 6 actors, It does require a large stretch of rural scenery, but most of the interiors take place in a simple house set. Of course, in a film about everyday people threatened by terrifying monsters, special effects are needed.  But Krasinski follows the classic Corman dictum of barely showing the creatures at the beginning, so that we’re absorbed in the drama long before we acknowledge the scary adversary is just a guy in a rubber suit. 

A Quiet Place never gets too intellectual about the nature of the threat the whole world is apparently facing. Mostly we’re caught up in the story of a family in crisis. Curiously, I was reminded more than once of Pa, Ma, and their daughters staving off locusts, blizzards, disease, and everything else in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie. The Ingalls family survived because they were accustomed to doing everything on their own, without help from the outside world. And the family in A Quiet Place, though they have access to electricity and modern electronics, are equally self-sufficient, terrific at improvising fixes when the chips are down. And from the time the movie begins, the chips are very much down: monsters are lurking and they seem unstoppable. 

Horror films thrive on gimmicks, and A Quiet Place has a really good one: the monsters are blind, but their hyper-acute hearing makes it easy for them to track their prey. For the human family, the best defense is to tread as softly as possible. Parents and children walk barefoot indoors and out, and communicate mostly in sign language, They’re well versed in this because their teenaged daughter is deaf. In the manner of classic family dramas everywhere, she’s both the one who feels guiltiest about the dangers they all face and the one who finally figures out the monsters’ fatal weakness. (Spoiler alert for Roger Corman fans: This weakness is not so far removed from the one on which we capitalized in our Concorde Pictures horror flick, The Terror Within.

At a time when our daily lives seem ever noisier, it’s fascinating to be caught up in a film that’s so dependent on silence. Needless to say, the sound design for A Quiet Place is exemplary. It used to be, of course, that movies were entirely silent, but our imaginations filled them with chatter. How ironic that in a modern film with all manner of sound at its disposal, noise is something that we’re hoping not to hear.

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