Given that a delayed sequel is set to be released in March of this year, there has never been a more apt time to talk about A Quiet Place, an innovative and important sci-fi scare-fest that gave hope to horror.
A Quiet Place arrived at a pivotal moment in April of 2018. Whilst independent films such as The Babadook had retained their innovative edge, mainstream horror looked doomed to fall into the same old trappings that haunted the genre for years. Audiences had grown tired of the seemingly endless and painfully unoriginal procession of gory flicks, most notably the unjustly immortal SAW franchise. Worse still, whilst a recent return to ghosts and haunted houses looked somewhat promising with the success of The Conjuring and Insidious, Hollywood proved, as is so often the case, to be motivated by one thing above all else – cash. There are now so many low-quality instalments in the Conjuring universe, each one less scary or interesting than its predecessor, that almost everyone is way past caring. One can only hope and pray that the same does not come true for the carefully crafted world of A Quiet Place.
Whatever happens with its successor, the original is a remarkable exploration of the human psyche that puts most popular contemporary horror films and the clueless creators responsible for them to shame. Director and actor John Krasinski achieve this with a steadfast determination to dodge clichés and, wait for it, create characters and a narrative that the audience genuinely care about.
Pursued by merciless monsters of an unknown origin, Lee Abbott and his family battle to survive in a dystopian world. Yet these aren’t just yet another CGI creature cloned from Ridley Scott’s Alien. These beasts are blessed with super-sonic hearing whilst cursed with a lack of sight, ensuring that everything, ranging from communicating to your brother to silently scavenging for your next meal, is suddenly a dance with death.
Make no mistake, this obsession with sound is no gimmick. Instead, it is an ingenious mechanic that ramps up the intensity to eleven. The greatest horror films are all about the physical experience, remorselessly playing on our primal fears and toying with our instincts, dragging us kicking and screaming into the screen whilst other genres allow us to be passive observers.
A Quiet Place fully understands this concept, and the effect is harrowing. Whilst our heroes are stalked by bloodthirsty creatures primed to rip them apart at the sound of an unmuffled footstep, audiences are so deeply immersed that they themselves are implored to remain silent for the sake of the characters we hold dear and, of course, our terrified selves. It’s a formula that never gets old, particularly because the one-hour-thirty runtime ensures its terror is relayed in beautifully succinct fashion.
Of course, this is only possible because we care deeply about the characters that are being pursued. So many horror films exist as a procession of jump scares that only allow them to be ‘scary’ in an almost superficial sense. Sure, we may well jump, but we are so uninvested in a dull and clichéd narrative that they are unable to obtain the true sensation of emotional terror, something that is only possible when a film has the sort of substance that keeps you emotionally invested.
Make no mistake, A Quiet Place is horrifying, and you certainly will jump. Yet in discrete moments, like when our couple share a dance to Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon’, or in heart-wrenching discussions between parent and child, it just might make you cry. That isn’t something you can attribute to many horror films, particularly one where the script for audible dialogue must barely amount to a single page.
Notable exceptions like Jordan Peele aside, very few directors can boast that they are capable of creating a film that threatens to make your heart burst from your chest in fright moments after it strummed a sorrowful melody on its strings. A Quiet Place is a ray of hope, a beacon of what horror can and perhaps should be. The lessons the industry can take from it are simple: genuine originality, snappy run-times and a commitment to building a world that the audience deeply cares about, even if they are terrified when they are dragged into it. Perhaps the profit hungry ghouls at the head of Hollywood should take note.
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