The title of “A Quiet Place” (2018) refers to the themes of sound and hearing that are so central to this film. Set in a near-future dystopian world where humans seem to have been mostly eradicated by otherworldly monsters with super-hearing that attack any sound they hear with deadly speed, the narrative follows a single nuclear family of five who have managed to survive by making as little noise as possible.
As an added dimension to an already tense story, the oldest daughter in this family, Regan is hearing impaired. While her deafness in some ways puts her personally at greater risk, Regan’s disability has actually proven an asset to her family unit. Even before these mega-predators arrived, this family could already communicate with each other without speaking. Regan’s role is played by Millicent Simmonds, who is herself hearing impaired. She’s not only a brilliant young actress, but her personal experiences allow her to infuse the character with flashes of sharp authenticity, such as when she snaps her fingers softly next to her ear to test if a hearing aid is working.
Such details are especially important in this movie because it’s essentially a “silent film” in terms of how it’s characters communicate with each other and with the audience. That is to say there’s very little dialogue in this film. However, on the other hand, this film is decidedly NOT a silent film. As viewers, much like the very sympathetic characters in this family, we become hyper-aware of not only every sound that we hear, but even objects that we recognize as capable of making noises likely to attract the monsters.
Sound, and the need to suppress it as much as possible, increases the anxiety and suspense in this film to incredible levels. What some film critics have dubbed the “Chekovian nail” in this movie attains an intensity of focus that few objects in movies ever manage. Similarly, the impending birth of a new child into this oppressively dangerous setting brings with it a sense of dread entirely at odds with the typically happy anticipation of childbirth. Indeed, that this film is able to turn ordinary objects terrifying and load normally joyous events with a sense of doom serves as a measure of its brilliance. The best horror stories always find ways to make the ordinary strange and to make the strange ordinary. In this regard, “A Quiet Place” succeeds marvelously.
Unlike many of the other films we’ve watching in this horror series, family in this film serves as a source of stability and safety. While “The Witch” and “Hereditary” unravel the comforts that families are expected to provide, “A Quiet Place” shows a family unit that pulls together and looks out for each other as they struggle against outside threats. Set against recent trends in horror (or perhaps even long-standing tropes), the stability of this basically happy and healthy family is almost shocking.
When this kind-hearted film even arrives upon a moving act of personal sacrifice by one family member to save other members of the family, it maintains its narrow focus on the powerful significance of sounds. Rarely in a horror film has one simple scream meant so much.