You never really know that a movie is worth seeing until the reviews start streaming in but that’s especially true with mainstream horror movies. With prestige dramas you can at least anticipate things based on who’s directing and with tentpole action movies you at least get a pretty good idea of what you’re getting from the trailers and with comedies you sort of know what to expect based on who’s in the cast, but with horror movies things get pretty fuzzy. Modern horror trailers are pretty formulaic and even when unique and interesting horror movies get made their advertising still makes them look like standard Paranormal Activity ripoff, which is why you hear stories of confused audiences walking into movies like mother! expecting them to play like Insidious movies. The new horror thriller A Quiet Place is a good example of how hard it is to tell the promising studio horror films from the not so promising ones. The film’s trailers made it look like just another standard jump scare movie but with a new gimmick, and it had a pretty questionable pedigree as well. The movie stars and was directed by John “Jim from The Office” Krasinski, who does not strike me as a very scary person, and it was produced by Michael Bay’s horror shingle Platinum Dunes which is like and even less ambitious iteration of the Blumhouse studio. So the movie didn’t look too promising, but low and behold, once it was actually screened for critics it suddenly shot up into the high 90s on Rotten Tomatoes and instantly became a must see.
The film is set in something of a post-apocalyptic near-future. Earth’s population has apparently been ravaged when non-sentient alien monsters brought by a falling meteor killed a massive number of people. The thing about these aliens though is that they’re blind, so there are ways to escape them, but if you make any sort of loud sound they spring up and kill you and you never really know where they’re hidden so you have to be quiet all the time. That is where the family of survivors we follow in the movie come in. The family primarily consists of a father named Lee (John Krasinski), his wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt), a deaf teenage daughter named Regan (Millicent Simmonds), and a younger son named Marcus (Noah Jupe). For much of the film we watch them as they live on a remote farm they’ve moved to in order to escape as much of the destruction as possible. There is however trouble on the horizon as Evelyn is pregnant with another child and it isn’t entirely clear how they are going to keep a screaming baby safe in a world where making the slightest sound can get you killed. With the family also increasingly falling apart over other existing tensions they could be facing quite the test going forward.
The general “quiet” of The Quiet Place is one of the things that makes it stand out the most. In general horror movies have less volume than most mainstream movies (aside from the occasional “jump” moments when it is very much not quiet) but this one takes it to a new extreme as the characters do everything in their power to keep from attracting the creatures. In fact American Sign Language could almost be said to be the film’s main language rather than spoken English. There are actually a lot of neat little world building things in the movie about how these people manage to make lives for themselves without sound. They walk everywhere barefoot for example and we see them spreading paths of sand everywhere in order to accommodate this. In this sense the movie actually reminded me a lot of the 2007 film I Am Legend, which was also at its best when it was showing how isolated characters can build a life for themselves during a post-apocalypse with a little ingenuity. Also like that movie I found myself being a lot more interested by the post-apocalyptic world building than I was by the attacking CGI monsters in the third act.
Ultimately the film doesn’t fall apart quite as hard as that aforementioned Will Smith movie, in part because we’ve progressed to the point where even third rate CGI doesn’t look that bad. Really the problem probably has less to do with the special effects and more to do with the fact that these aliens lack a certain primal fear factor. They look less like the things of nightmares and more like the kind of enemies I’d blast with a BFG in “Doom.” That kind of approach works better when you go all in and just show the snarling monsters in all their disgusting glory ala The Thing but this movie uses them more to be sort of quasi-ghosts who haunt our protagonists. But at the end of the day that’s not really what’s most important as the threat of the monsters is clearly more of the focus here. Still, I think there was a better version of this movie, in fact I’m sure there is because it was called It Comes at Night and it came out last year to a great deal of public apathy. That was a movie with a similar interest in post-apocalyptic survival and family dynamics but was less interested in adding in jump scares and it was more interested in preserving certain mysteries than laying out clear answers. In many ways this just kind of feels like a watered down and admittedly more audience-pleasing version of that movie and it’s always going to seem a bit second rate to me because of that. Still, it’s a cool little horror movie and certainly better than I would have thought from a first impression.
*** out of Five