Today’s guest review is by Justin Petrisek.
If I told you that a monk, Stephen King, and a father with a newborn baby walked into a bar, you would understandably think I was launching into some hackneyed joke. But if you imagined the conversation that these three minds might have, then you could envision the essential elements of A Quiet Place, the perfect blend of silence, terror, and the pressures of raising a family.
The movie follows a family of four — John Krasinski of The Office fame, Emily Blunt (the couple are married in real life as well), and young actors Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe — as they try to survive in a world that has been overrun by bloodthirsty monsters. The kicker to what seems a standard post-apocalyptic plot: these creatures are completely blind and hunt by homing in on even the slightest sound. In a world where the faintest of sounds can lead to a sudden and savage death, A Quiet Place is understandably… well, quiet. But in the midst of this silence, A Quiet Place is essentially a parable for raising a family in what oftentimes seems a broken world.
As the film’s sound editor Erik Aadahl described it, the unusual silence is like a beautiful Rembrandt or Caravaggio painting where a shaft of light surrounded by darkness makes the scene more beautiful by contrast. Likewise, the actions, expressions, and burdens of a family living in such dark and dire circumstances are given the opportunity to shine in the midst of near silence. And that’s exactly what the film does – it lets the family shine as its most intriguing character.
When the film begins, three months after the unseen invasion occurs, everyone and everything that still lives has adapted. The family communicates through sign language and walks barefoot over strategically placed sand paths so as to remain silent. Birds never make a sound. Doors are never opened or closed. Even crickets have gone silent in order to survive. As the movie’s tagline puts it: If they hear you, they hunt you.
The power of silence in this film cannot be underestimated. The craft master of horror fiction himself, Stephen King, noted on Twitter that “A QUIET PLACE is an extraordinary piece of work. Terrific acting, but the main thing is the SILENCE, and how it makes the camera’s eye open wide in a way few movies manage.”
The camera’s eye is not the only one opening wide. The stakes are made immediately clear just 10 minutes into the film when the family loses their third and youngest child (Cade Woodward) whose innocent desire to play with a toy rocket ship attracts the sound-sensitive creatures. It is a bold move by John Krasinski, who also directs the film, and the writers to show the monsters so early in the film. The tension no longer comes from what the monsters might look like (or in this case sound like) but from the ever-present reality that a single sound could mean death for you and your family. It is a subtle move but one which effectively keeps the focus on the family and the lengths they are willing to go to in order to protect each other.
Flash forward a year and the Abbott family (a subtle reference to orders of monks who live in silence perhaps?) is still there, though each of them is carrying some kind of burden. The father, Lee Abbott, has become strained by the desire to keep his family happy and unified — something he feels he has already failed to do with the death of his youngest child — but also prepared should he ever be killed. The daughter, Regan Abbott, is deaf and lives with a broken cochlear implant, which means she must be doubly cautious as she cannot hear the sounds of the creatures or if she is making any noise herself. On top of that, Regan blames herself for her younger brother’s death. In the mother’s case, Evelyn Abbott not only carries the weight of her son’s death for which she also feels responsible, but she is now carrying the literal weight of a new child. Evelyn is more than eight months pregnant and just three weeks from her due date in a world where you cannot make a sound.
This is where the film begins to stake a major claim in favor of the idea of family. It was common to hear criticism about this plot point in the wake of the movie’s release. Much of the commentary went something like this: who is irresponsible enough to get pregnant in a world where you can’t make any sound or who would move forward with a pregnancy when it could put your entire family at risk?
The Abbott family, it seems, has had the opposite reaction. They relish the opportunity to have another child, even when it puts a strain on their circumstances. They have banded together by turning a farmhouse cellar into a full-on nursery with padded walls, felt baby toys, and a sound-proofed crib for when the baby starts crying. It is a telling sign that as the family prepares for the baby’s arrival, they also gather around a dinner table and pray before they eat. They cannot use words, they cannot express their needs, fears, or thankfulness, and one imagines that they cannot fully understand the burdens that each of them is carrying. The only thing that they can do is to be there for one another, to remain a family.
It is no wonder that this note of family strength and unity comes through in this film. “The idea was perfect. I saw the entire movie within 30 minutes of finishing the script because I was holding my daughter when I was reading the pages,” Krasinski told Deadline. “I said if I can actually take this experience of these early days of parenthood, which is pure terror, pure nerves — you’re not even a real person — and put that in a movie and make this the best metaphor for parenting that I’ve ever encountered, that was my goal.”
It isn’t long though before this family’s survival is threatened. Lee takes his son Marcus on a routine trip to gather fish from a nearby river and Regan has run away to visit her younger brother’s memorial site, leaving Evelyn unknowingly at home alone when she goes into labor weeks early. The family must run to save Evelyn and the baby and all of them must decide what they are willing to risk and perhaps even lose in order to protect the family.
Perhaps the most touching scene in the film comes in its final moments. SPOILER ALERT: Marcus and Regan have distracted the monsters long enough for Lee to rescue Evelyn and his newborn son and hide them in the underground nursery. Now Lee must rescue Marcus and Regan from a field where the monsters have gathered. Here, Lee decides to make the ultimate sacrifice. He yells in a last-ditch effort to draw the monster away from his children so that they can escape, but not before signing “I love you” to Regan. Actress Millicent Simmonds, who is deaf in real life and plays Regan, suggested to Krasinski that he amend the line and add “I have always loved you.” It was a suggestion that Krasinski said brought him to tears on set (and audiences with him), a suggestion that the love of a family can survive any broken circumstance and any broken world, a suggestion that familial love always remains and can never be silenced.
So, say what you want about monks, Stephen King, post-apocalyptic stories, and hackneyed bar jokes, but I think we could use more families like the Abbotts in our world today.
A Quiet Place’s MPAA rating is PG-13 for terror and some bloody images. John Krasinski directs. Story by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck with screenplay by Woods, Beck, and Krasinski. Sound editing and design by Erik Aadahl, Ethan Van der Ryn, and company. Running time: 90 min.
— Justin Petrisek is a writer based out of Virginia. He received his M.F.A. in creative writing and M.A. in literature from George Mason University as well as an M.A. in theology from the Augustine Institute.