A Quiet Place

Release: Friday, April 6, 2018

→Theater

Written by: Bryan Woods; Scott Beck; John Krasinski

Directed by: John Krasinski

As a relatively newly minted father himself, actor-director-Scranton prankster John Krasinski seems to be sharing with us in his horror debut something deeply personal, an epiphany that has struck him, like it might another parent, as horrifying: There will eventually come a day when your children need you and you just can’t be there for them. Whether that is by way of natural order or unfortunate circumstance, it is an inevitability. It is this deep-seated yet commonly-held fear of failure that has given birth to A Quiet Place.

For a filmmaker who has confessed to generally avoiding consuming scary films, Krasinski seems scary natural at the craft. I was going to try and omit the horror label in my review — I find A Quiet Place more an acutely distressing survivalist thriller than a bona fide SCARY MOVIE — but then I had an epiphany of my own. Scary movie, survival thriller, those are semantics and phooey on them. A Quiet Place is just a good movie period, a delicious and consistent batter of chilling supernatural thrills and heartbreaking human drama, and a strong credit to a résumé that has heretofore touted lovable goofballs and hopeless romantics. That we learn through some rather nerve-shredding trials just how much of a family man Krasinski really is is a bonus.

His film, an original story first conceived in 2013 by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck which he later reworked himself, tells of a young family trying to maintain some sense of normalcy in their lives in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by terrifying creatures that hunt by sound. Krasinski stars as head of household and de facto frontiersman Lee Abbott, and in a bit of potentially gimmicky casting that quickly proves to be anything but, he casts his real wife Emily Blunt in the role of his tough-as-nails (pun not intended) on-screen wife Evelyn. Lee and Evelyn have three kids in tow, each played magnificently by the young actors — little Beau (Cade Woodward), middle child Marcus (Noah Jupe) and eldest Regan (deaf actress Millicent Simmonds).

In the aftermath of some unexplained catastrophe life is now governed by one simple but vitally important rule — keep as quiet as possible at all times. This is more a family policy as we don’t meet very many strangers, but we can assume the same applies to anyone who doesn’t wish to get eviscerated at 100 miles an hour. We can infer from an opening title card that it is the couple’s resourcefulness and determination that has enabled the family to navigate a strange and oppressive world for at least three months. Like the Abbotts’ daily routine, A Quiet Place is an exercise in restraint, and I was reminded immediately of this concept of rule-abiding and extreme isolation that was intensely focused upon in Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes At Night — incidentally one of those modern titles that has encouraged Krasinski to give horror another chance.

A Quiet Place opens up at the pace of spilt molasses as compared to the chaos in which it concludes, but these first scenes are crucial in earning our sympathy. Krasinski’s meticulous planning is on full display as we are taken on a guided tour through the detritus of their humble community while the group endures a hair-raising tiptoeing from their farmhouse-cum-fortress to gather essential supplies. Credit the writing how a lack of detail with regards to the big picture actually enhances the experience while in smaller moments and individual scenes the complete opposite holds true — detail is everything. The gravel paths, color-coded Christmas lights, dinners and game nights on soft surfaces are little bits of consideration that generally offset Krasinski’s clumsier spells as director (his foreshadowing is pretty on-the-nose, for example).

Like the aforementioned primitive thriller of yesteryear, A Quiet Place relies heavily upon its technical department to evoke mood. Krasinski differentiates himself by doubling down on aural stimulation, nearly gutting the screenplay entirely of spoken dialogue and having his characters communicate largely through sign language and simple gesticulations. This isn’t a technique employed just to give agency to Simmonds’ character, whose deafness eventually becomes vital to the plot, but it is a matter of practicality that brings attention to all the ways in which we take verbal communication for granted.

Admittedly, the brilliant sound design is likely what audiences will leave the theater talking about more than anything. It makes sense. Like Mike Flanagan’s Hush, a home invasion thriller that debated whether an immunity to sound works to one’s advantage in situations that require heightened sensory awareness, silence becomes a character unto itself in A Quiet Place. Yet it becomes something more than just a theme park attraction. Here, silence comes in different forms — as punishment meted out by a frustrated child to their parents whose rules they perceive to be unfair; as the result of a physical condition that could well be the deciding factor in whether a character lives or dies; as the gut-wrenching aftermath of something or somebody lost.

The premise doesn’t boil down to much beyond good guys outwitting (or flat-out avoiding) their nameless and faceless opponents in a stripped-down, neo-western setting. That is unfairly reductive to the point of being inaccurate, though. A Quiet Place offers a road map for nervous new parents who are trying to figure things out for the first time and find themselves struggling more often than succeeding. It is part coming-of-age for Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds, part-labor of love for a filmmaker who has come to appreciate the unique entertainment value of the genre, and a thrilling, surprisingly emotional adventure for the rest of us.

Recommendation: John Krasinski’s family values are things I came to admire in A Quiet Place. More pleasantly surprising to me was that he doesn’t smash you over the head with his sense of scruples. That element is absolutely there but in my view he isn’t asking anyone to side with him. In fact the whole point of the exercise is to challenge us and to make us question what we would do as parents in this situation. What would we do similarly? What would we do differently? And all-around strong performances from an innately likable cast only solidify A Quiet Place as a must-see film for fans of John Krasinski and Emily Blunt. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 90 mins.

Quoted: “I love you. I’ve always loved you.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Hush

'Hush' movie poster

Release: Friday, April 8, 2016 (Netflix)

[Netflix]

Written by: Mike Flanagan; Kate Siegel

Directed by: Mike Flanagan

What you don’t hear definitely can hurt you in Hush, Mike Flanagan’s second consecutive exploration of the human sensory system and how much we depend on it, especially in stressful situations.

In 2013 Flanagan emphasized, even obsessed over visual stimuli, how one’s mind has the ability to play tricks on the eye when it comes to seeing things that may or may not be there. The title Oculus should ring a bell, even if its vaguely silly plot about a rogue antique mirror that kills people, does not. Flanagan now seems poised to be taken a little more seriously, cutting a nifty slice of indie horror based around auditory senses, or the lack thereof.

Hush pits a young mute woman named Maddie (Kate Siegel) against a psychotic stalker (John Gallagher, Jr.) that appears at her back door late one evening. We find ourselves in an unnamed and unidentified location, some thickly wooded area better off not named. Here Maddie’s been living a quiet life in isolation, one that she claims she didn’t choose but rather was forced upon her since complications from a surgery many years ago rendered her permanently deaf. She seems to be getting along well despite being completely on her own, and despite her struggles to complete a second horror novel. (She’s already published one.)

Flanagan wastes preciously little time propping up the pieces that will hold the conflict in place. In hindsight, introductions could have been a little less mechanical — we see Maddie chat with a neighbor briefly about that book — although there’s really no reason to dilly-dally since the premise is so pure and uncomplicated. But during this fleeting calm we get to know and care about our protagonist. Siegel’s committed performance, including some emphatic signing, reveals much about her personality, Maddie’s intelligence and passion for writing evident above all but we can tell she’s still trying to recover from something emotionally. She seems vulnerable and distant. That vulnerability takes on an entirely new meaning when we first see her tormentor, a chilling shot that demonstrates why her lack of hearing is a potentially fatal disadvantage.

Let’s talk about the home invader, shall we, because he’s something of a nightmare. Armed with a compound bow and a facemask, Gallagher (credited simply as ‘The Man’) feels like he just sauntered over to the next house after the events of You’re Next (I guess he’d need an animal mask if he was really wanting to fit in). The change of pace seems to be a good thing for the up-and-comer, even if his iciness is a trait that takes some time getting used to (maybe it’s the lack of a beard and a shaven head that does it). Even if his character’s backstory is nonexistent — where is he coming from? why is he doing this? just who is this guy? — his psychosis isn’t to be questioned. Here is a man whose depravity knows no bounds.

Plus, that aura of mystery that first seemed like lazy writing comes back to haunt us later. We want to go digging for answers, any lame justification as to why this man might want to make Maddie suffer, but that’s a fruitless effort. Some people are just no good. That there doesn’t appear to be any kind of personal vendetta means there’s little reasoning with the guy and without reason there can be no comfort. To Maddie’s credit, she does try.

To Siegel’s credit, who also co-wrote the script with Flanagan, her resilient performance is destined to hush the skeptics, those who write off contemporary horror as lazy cash grabs utterly disinterested in offering up intriguing characters (to be fair and as a skeptic myself, they have a valid point with a great many releases). Hush works primarily because of its characters; it’s certainly less ambitious in other aspects. Too often there comes a pause where you think ‘what the hell is the guy doing right now? Why doesn’t he come in and end this now?’ Indeed, the mind is going to wander where it shouldn’t, and that’s an unfortunate result of the story focusing so intensely on how Maddie reacts to a situation that goes from bad to worse. If we’re assuming events are unfolding in real-time, there’s a lot of downtime and that fact becomes quite the distraction.

But this game of cat-and-mouse is too compelling, too tightly-wound to worry about nitpicks like that. You could poke enough holes in the script to make it look like swiss cheese before writing it off as something you’d rather not watch. Hush is so impressive in the way it integrates an atypical character into a more familiar narrative. Not once do you feel bad for Maddie simply because she can’t hear — you fear for her life when that fact actually becomes a threat to her safety, but never do you pity her. She’s a strong and independent woman willing to do what it takes to overcome her terrible situation, willing to do anything other than lay down and die.

What kind of an ending is Maddie going to be able to write for herself? The answer can be found if you’re willing to sit through some seriously uncomfortable silence.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 12.26.48 AM

Recommendation: Hush offers the jaded/casual fan of modern horror another reason to give the genre another go; it’s a character-driven piece with some crucial sound design and editing that rewards more often than not and while there could have been some more substantial development early on, the great performances and unique circumstances are enough to overcome a few shortcomings. If you liked Oculus, you should definitely Flanagan’s latest a shot. Exclusively on Netflix.

Rated: R

Running Time: 87 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com