2018-04-19 / Around Town

‘A Quiet Place’ Creates Dread with Silence

By Loren King

Emily Blunt stars in the horror thriller “A Quiet Place” Emily Blunt stars in the horror thriller “A Quiet Place” Movies are a visual medium, so it’s surprising that more filmmakers don’t make silent films, or at least films with minimal dialogue. Other than those from the silent era, only a few near-silent films spring to mind: Mel Brooks’s 1976 “Silent Movie”; the 2011 best picture Oscar-winner “The Artist”; and a 2014 Ukrainian movie called “The Tribe,” which took place in a school for deaf adolescents who communicated strictly through sign language.

One of the storylines in last year’s “Wonderstruck” was set in 1927 and director Todd Haynes shot it, like “The Artist,” in black-and-white and in silent-film style.

“Wonderstruck” starred the magnificent young actress Millicent Simmonds, who is deaf and has the luminous face of a silent movie star. She’s got another meaty role in “A Quiet Place,” the new horror thriller starring John Krasinski (who also co-wrote and directed) and his real-life wife, Emily Blunt. “A Quiet Place” masterfully creates tension through long stretches of silence. The silence is a necessity of the plot; the film is about a family of five who are terrorized by blind, carnivorous creatures who kill at the first hint of sound.

Loren King is an arts and entertainment writer whose work appears regularly in The Boston Globe and other publications. Loren King is an arts and entertainment writer whose work appears regularly in The Boston Globe and other publications. The film opens with an eerie scene of the various family members creeping barefoot through an abandoned supermarket. Glimpses of newspaper headlines in the post-apocalyptic landscape describe creatures with acute hearing who’ve apparently decimated the population. Since daughter Regan (Simmonds) is deaf, her parents Lee (Krasinski), Evelyn (Blunt), and her younger brother Marcus (Noah Jupe) all communicate in American sign language, which is certainly a help when trying to avoid detection by the mysterious predators.

After fleeing a deadly encounter with the monsters, the family holes up in the underground shelter they’ve created in their isolated farmhouse, complete with cornfield and silo (site of a great scene later on). In this hiding place they try to live as normally as possible. For example, they play Monopoly with soft fuzzy balls instead of metal pieces and they eat dinner without noisy utensils. When Evelyn prepares a room for the baby she’s expecting (apprehensively, to say the least), she hangs a mobile made of plush toys.

When sound does come, it’s jarring, such as a heartbeat, a song playing through an earpiece, even breath itself. Sound and all its attendant technology is part of the movie’s atmosphere. Lee has set up a sound studio in an adjacent basement bunker where he sits wearing headphones trying to figure out what might be the creatures’ weakness and how he might manipulate it.

“A Quiet Place” is a survivalist story and also a powerful metaphor about parental fear. Lee decides to take Marcus out for some self-reliance lessons, though the timing seems contrived since Evelyn is nearing her due date. That aside, we’re treated to one of the more harrowing birth scenes in movies with Blunt in full silent scream-queen mode as Evelyn, alone, must contend with breaking water and an injured foot without uttering a sound. The creatures have invaded the house at this most inconvenient moment.

One of my few quibbles with the film is that when we glimpse the monster as it slithers down a hall or when it plants a hand on a wall, it’s truly sinister. But when we get a close-up of the creature, it’s too derivative of “Alien,” with slimy portals and awesome fangs.

The film should be viewed in a proper theater where rare communal silence adds to the tension. One can’t help think about how bombastic most modern films are and how few have utilized silence to such artful effect as Krasinski and his team do in this taut, spare thriller.

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