Read This Before You Watch “A Quiet Place”

For this week in our series on current trends in horror movies we take a look at “A Quiet Place” (2018), John Krasinski’s directorial debut. The film got a lot of attention on its release in theaters a couple years ago. Since then it has gained even more popularity with online viewers, and rightly so. Although fairly mild in terms of violence and gore, this film makes you care deeply about its small group of characters while thrusting them into incredibly suspenseful situations. It’s one of those rare movies that keeps you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. Remarkably, Krasinski achieves all this with what is essentially a silent film.

Set several months into a dystopian future where the world has become infested with strange predators that strike and kill at the slightest sound, the movie focuses on a family of five who struggle to survive by remaining as quiet as possible in order to avoid detection by the monsters. Krasinski plays the nameless father character, and his real-life wife Emily Blunt plays the nameless mother.

Both adult actors do excellent work in their roles as caring but terrified parents; however, the real standout star of this film – the one who makes this film truly something special – is the young actress Millicent Simmonds who plays the family’s oldest daughter. Her character is hearing impaired, as is Simmonds.

This brilliant juxtaposition of a deaf girl with an alien species that has superhuman hearing pushes the movie into new and compelling territory. What might ordinarily be seen as a disability suddenly emerges as an unexpectedly powerful tool for survival in this post-apocalypse. The family can already communicate using sign language, so they’ve readily learned how to make their home a quiet place that will escape notice.

Once the movie establishes the need for absolute quiet to avoid quick death, every creaking floorboard and carelessly dropped item elevates the tension. Not only that, but even ordinary items capable of producing loud noises become objects of dread in this film. Indeed, one of the most incredible things about this movie is its ability to make normal domestic activities fraught with danger. Even siblings playing an innocent board game can summon mortal danger.

I don’t want to say much more because I don’t want to give anything away, but as with last week’s film, I’d ask you to be attentive to the soundtrack of this film, paying special attention to how diegetic and non-diegetic sounds and music are used in this movie. Remember that “diegetic” film elements are things that we understand as existing as part of the fictional world inhabited by the characters. For example, sounds that the characters can hear. By contrast, “non-diegetic” film elements are aspects of the movie that are part of the viewer’s experience but are understood as not existing to the characters. An example of a non-diegetic element would be the score, or “mood music,” in a film like the creepy soundtrack of “Hereditary.”

If you haven’t seen this movie yet, you’re in for a real treat. I can’t wait to hear what you think. Don’t forget to read through my discussion questions before you watch it. Then, sit back and enjoy this incredible thrill ride.

Published by Chuck Caruso

writer of dark fiction (crime, horror & western noir), literary & textual scholar (american gothic, noir, po-co, sf), and cultural critic

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