Film Review: Narrative Flaws Overpower Virtues of “A Quiet Place”

Film poster: “A Quiet Place”

A Quiet Place (John Krasinski, 2018) 2 out of 4 stars.

Genial actor John Krasinski (Jim on the American version of The Office) has directed three feature-length films, so far. The first two were Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (2009) and The Hollars (2016). While I did not see his debut project, I did catch the sophomore effort, which did not impress. An odd amalgam of comedy, treacle and dispiriting drama, it never quite gelled as a cohesive whole, though I’ll give it points for singular oddness. Now comes A Quiet Place, in which Krasinski demonstrates genuine craft behind the camera, delivering a taut sci-fi horror film filled with many fraught scenes of indisputable terror. Unfortunately, the entire affair is compromised by a flawed script (on which Krasinski collaborated) that never does the hard work of world-building that would make its premise effective; said screenplay needed a good many more drafts to iron out the improbabilities. Ergo, while individual moments might be dramatically potent, the final result is narratively inchoate.

It’s too bad, as it starts well. An opening title card informs us that this is “Day 89.” We see a ruined stoplight, an empty town, then a broken-down supermarket, through we catch glimpses of bare children’s feet, running softly. Soon, a family of five coalesces in the gloom: two parents, an oldest (still tween) girl, a middle boy and a baby brother. They don’t speak, and endeavor to make as little noise as possible. As they leave, we notice a New York Post in the background, its cover emblazoned with the words “It’s sound!” Something, it seems, wicked this way listens. Sure enough, one of the children does something thoughtless, and with impressive swiftness, a frightening monster thunders from the nearby woods, on the horrifying attack. Lesson learned the hard way. Be quiet. So far, so cinematically good.

Emily Blunt and Millicent Simmonds in A QUIET PLACE ©Paramount Pictures

Flash forward to Day 472. They have a routine. Post-apocalyptic our planet may be, but life goes on. And this is where the story breaks down (if you think about it for more than a few seconds, that is). As we gather from details here and there, most of humanity has been wiped out by some kind of invincible extraterrestrial creatures that are blind, but respond to sound. That works. But then Krasinski, having spent so much time establishing the need for silence, begins to break the rules, allowing some noises a certain leeway, others not, without consistency. This fallibility then leads to further questioning of the entire set-up. How, exactly, did billions of people vanish at the hands (mandibles? teeth?) of these monsters. As a species, for better or for worse, we make weapons, and we innovate. By the end of the story, when a solution is found (after many grisly events), it’s hard to believe that no one else could have conceived of it. By then, however, I was completely out of the movie.

Noah Jupe, Millicent Simmonds and John Krasinski in A QUIET PLACE ©Paramount Pictures

Again, there are solid scenes, assembled with fine mise-en-scène and editing. The actors – including Krasinksi’s real-life wife Emily Blunt (Sicario), Millicent Simmonds (Wonderstruck), Noah Jupe (Wonder) and Krasinski, himself – hold our attention, as well, except in moments of expositional dialogue that would have better been left unsaid. Simmonds (who is deaf in real life), and Jupe, especially, are magnificent. The muted sound design is exceptional, playing off our fears of what might happen if anyone loudly slips up, even if, as mentioned, the occasional noises are not all treated the same way.

There is also one sequence in the film involving childbirth that is truly terrifying, even if the fact of that pregnancy makes no sense (who would jeopardize their entire family to bring in a baby incapable of being quiet?). And though there be a few too many silly jump scares, the net effect of the film demonstrates that, as a director, anyway, Krasinski can be trusted to bring home the goods. It’s just too bad the script lets him, and us, so bitterly down.

Real-life, and cinematic, spouses Emily Blunt and John Krasinski in A QUIET PLACE ©Paramount Pictures

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; a regular film critic here at filmfestivaltoday.com; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning "Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed"; a film commentator for the "Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at "The Baltimore Sun"; and the author of "Film Editing: Theory and Practice." In addition, he is one of three co-creators, along with Summre Garber of Slamdance and Bart Weiss of Dallas VideoFest, of "The Fog of Truth" (fogoftruth.com) – available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher – a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.
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