Sunday, November 18, 2018

A Quiet Place (2018)

Welcome to another version of the post-apocalyptic US of A. This time around, most of the country’s population has been decimated by monsters who find their victims by sound. So now it’s time for everyone to finally shut the hell up. The film is concerned with your typical white middle-class family unit, the Abbotts, you might remember from all American movies ever. There’s mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt), father Lee (John Krasinski, who also directs and co-writes the script), deaf mute daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and youngest son Marcus (Noah Juppe). There was an even younger kid, too, but he dies in the intro sequence in a space shuttle toy related incident that still haunts the family, with particularly Regan taking on most of the guilt for what happened.

The family has built themselves quite a nice little quiet fort out in the country; they’re going to need it, too, for Evelyn is very very pregnant, and a new-born isn’t exactly ideal when you’re threatened by sound-seeking monsters.

I fear I’m starting to turn into one of those horrible curmudgeons that hate everything that’s popular, for after finding little to praise about the critically well loved Ghost Story, I’m also not terribly happy with this particular flavour of the day in horror. In my defence, at least I love Hereditary. However, let’s start with the positive: Krasinski sure knows how to make a film look good, letting the – clearly brilliant – DP Charlotte Bruus Christensen fill the screen with slick and gorgeous nature shots, and also uses some sleek lighting once stuff becomes more outwardly exciting to make things appropriately spooky. The sound design is pretty well done too.

Unfortunately, all the film’s prettiness is let down by a script that’s just not terribly interesting: if you expect a film that seems to so heavily emphasise the death of the family’s youngest to actually have to say anything but the most superficial and obvious about the death of a child, guilt and how it threatens family relations, you’re out of luck. Or if you expect a film that is this heavily about quiet to do very much with that, you might be confused when quiet and quietness as an idea doesn’t even cross the film’s mind. Again, it’s all surface-level monster-enabling survival stuff without any thought given to the metaphorical strength of what their new world should ask of its characters. But then, the film very consciously avoids anything that might take any effort from its audience. Just for example, while this nominally is a film with little dialogue, A Quiet Place still has its characters talking nearly incessantly, using Regan’s deaf muteness as a convenient excuse to have everyone babbling away in sign language all of the time.

Convenience really is the watch word for the film’s script. Clearly, everything here is positioned to move everyone and everything as conveniently as possible from one okay but not terribly exciting thriller set piece to the next. So obviously the same family that builds a sound-proof box for their new-born – and don’t even ask me about how plausible I think Evelyn’s pregnancy under the circumstances is – and constructs semi-ingenious defensive and warning systems for their farm doesn’t have a meeting place set up in case they are attacked and separated, or manages to overlook a pregnant woman-threatening nail right in the middle of their cellar stairs.

And isn’t it really convenient, too, that apparently nobody managed to find out these hearing-heavy monsters are allergic against certain high sounds? And that again nobody but our super family notices that the creatures’ fold-out mouths might be the place to shoot them? And isn’t it, well, even more convenient that the homebrew hearing aid Lee constructs for his daughter emits exactly the right monster-hurting frequency?

Now, I’m well willing and able to roll with – or won’t even notice – this sort of thing in a film that has other things to offer. Alas, A Quiet Place’s empty prettiness and boring competence provides no way to avoid everything that’s lazy about its script and empty about its conception.

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