A Quiet Place

3 out of 5

Directed by: John Krasinski

I knew, going in to A Quiet Place, that it focused around sound, or a lack of it.  I otherwise didn’t have any expectations for it, besides, I suppose, an awareness that people felt it was pretty dang good.

It was pretty dang good, and appreciably understated for a horror flick coming out of Platinum Dunes.  But… there could have been a whole lot more.

A Quiet Place does us the favor of skipping past the setup, something we’ve seen so many times that to execute it again – especially in a film that wants to apply a killer-behind-the-curtain thriller formula to a premise that would normally be used for giant CGI city destruction – would have instantly cast a particular light o’er the runtime; instead, we pick up at day 80something, with a family (husband wife, two boys, one girl) scavenging a pharmacy in a ruined town for meds for a sick son.  Their tiptoeing and sign language clues us in that we need to be quiet, and it’s not too long until we see the results of unquiet.  Cut to day 400something.  Family bonding, close calls, and nail-chomping moments of utter silence with a threat right around the corner ensue.  This stuff worked.  Krasinski and his script writers tell us a lot without expositing it (even through sign language), and they find smart, small ways to break the silence during peaceful times as well, though certainly not so much as to dispel the ever-present dangers.

But there could have been a lot more.  Not to the story, which was perfectly (sorta) oblique, relying on our assumptions about the genre to fill in the gaps, but just… to everything.  There’s very purposeful mixing of the sound to play down ambient noise, which I found distracting instead of immersive.  You can argue for an attempt to mimic the experience of the daughter, who is deaf, but the sound blips in at key moments (as does the score, though its subtle enough) to make me way too aware that footsteps and breathing aren’t making any sounds, and yet sounds that might be on that same level but are less regular are worthy of a freak out.  Similarly, the family is so careful with certain sound precautions, and then there are other decisions that seem borne out of a need for dramatic flourish.  And the telegraphing… woof.  Maybe some production exec (we’ll just jump on a bandwagon and blame Michael Bay, ’cause why not) felt that the lack of dialogue meant we had to handhold the audience to conclusions, but several plot revelations are brought about with visual signs akin to flashing neon arrows.  Again: non-immersive.  There are also a small handful of subplots that feel mostly useless.  Given how things play out, the majority of these are larks or time-fillers; I enjoyed my 90 minutes, but there’s really only a short film here.

A Quiet Place is unexpected bigger-budgeted fare, for sure, and it was executed with, to me, a small film mindset that kept it involving, despite several flaws which prevented it from being truly terrifying beyond some key moments.