Thursday 5 April 2018

A Quiet Place

Womb Of The Blind Dead

A Quiet Place
2018 USA Directed by John Krasinski
UK cinema release print.

Okay, so this one’s pretty amazing.

I’ve said this before on here but... remember how David Lynch’s Wild At Heart starts with Sailor Ripley repeatedly bashing in the skull of someone on a brass railing and the sound and fury of that moment sets up just how dangerous and spontaneous he is (even though he’s pretty much the hero of the film)? Similarly, remember how Steven Spielberg starts off Jurassic Park with a sequence which really shows you just how dangerous a velociraptor can be? These are two scenes which set up the potential of certain elements of a movie to teach the audience to be afraid and to make them anxious that there’s a possibility the film-makers are not going to be pulling any punches here. Anything bad could easily happen.

Well, this is what the new post apocalyptic sci-fi/horror movie A Quiet Place does within the first ten minutes or so of its running time. The film is directed by John Krasinski and stars both him and his real life wife, the always incredible Emily Blunt, as Lee and Evelyn, the parents of a family of survivors after ‘something bad’ has happened to the planet. And, if they don’t want something equally bad happening to them they have to be, as Elmer Fudd in a Bugs Bunny cartoon would say... “.... vewy, vewy quiet!”. And, like those two classic examples I just gave, the writers here find a similar way to let the audience know just how dangerous the threat to these people is.

The film is given a deliberate, documentary style ‘validation’ by setting the scenes on screen in typography as Day Number ‘x’. So we’re given the number of days since the family have been struggling to survive (along with other survivors in nearby places) since things went wrong. What went wrong, is something you pick up quite quickly, in some ways, from early on in the film. At some point, starting when people started mysteriously going missing but then escalating... big insect-like creatures have wiped out most of the population of the planet. Are they mutations of some sort? Are they aliens? Well, just like the traditional stance of something like a post-Romero zombie film, we never actually find out. The film-makers do just the right thing here and never explain the threat. They just set it up as the thing which makes this thriller work and... well, it really does work.

Okay, so these big, fast insect things are basically blind but they hunt by sound and, physically, their whole head is, more or less, one giant ear. You understand this even though hardly a word is spoken throughout the movie. Most of the dialogue, such as it is, being done through subtitled sign language. This, of course, re-enforces the necessity throughout for almost total silence and this also, naturally, gives the filmmakers ample ammunition to scare the audience silly with sound. For example, there’s a scene fairly early on in the film where somebody accidentally overturns a lighted lamp and, frankly, the noise of this scared the life out of me. So it’s certainly an effective tactic.

Now, I’ve said before that horror movies can still work well when they’re following the genre rules and clichés associated with them, as long as they’re executed competently and... A Quiet Place is no exception. The film is fraught with peril and it’s also so well timed and constructed that, even though there aren’t really any surprises here, it’s done just right and I don’t mind saying my heart was in my mouth for most of the film. The suspense in the movie is almost unbearable and intense and I was so pleased with this movie that I didn’t mind the clichés set up to build the foundations for the scares straight from the start.

So... okay, let’s look at those clichés then.

Well, number one is that we have one of the children, the daughter of Evelyn and Lee, called Regan, who, it turns out, is totally deaf. It’s a testament to just how good the movie makers are that they can set that up very early on in the first sequence just with the sound design (you'll know what I mean when you hear it, if you see this in a half decent cinema). Big shout out to the young actress Millicent Simmonds, by the way, who is absolutely phenomenal in this role. So, yeah, we have a deaf character which the audience immediately understands can be a danger in this situation... she can’t hear if anyone, including herself, is making any noise to attract the creatures. So you know the director is going to milk that for all its worth.

Cliché number two, which you will see from the trailer, is the ticking time bomb in Evelyn’s womb. Evelyn is pregnant and is due very soon... babies are noisy things and so you can pretty much figure out that the baby is going to be coming along at the absolute worst time possible for our characters. There will be consequences.

And the third cliché is the potential ‘magic bullet’ solution to all the troubles the characters find themselves in. There’s a point where someone is given something... and I’m trying to avoid spoilers here... and you just know that this is going to turn out to be the possible salvation/turning point away from mankind’s extinction. And I have to say, in hindsight, once you figure out just how these creatures work, you might wonder why the heck nobody thought of this earlier, before humanity got into this situation in the first place. It’s a pretty obvious thing but, heck... since we don’t know enough about how things happened at the beginning of the catastrophic events that kickstart this whole plot, who’s to say if there was any time for the population of the planet to sort this out? Lets humour the writers here and say there wasn’t.

So, yeah, full of obvious things, this movie but, like I said, so perfectly put together and executed that I really don’t think anyone is going to mind too much. The film is so scary I was really glad I took my blood pressure pill before going to the cinema, I can tell you. It’s also wise in the way it’s been edited and especially in what’s been omitted, I suspect. I know the trailer has a fair few things in it which don’t quite make it into the movie and, given my slight criticisms, some of those cuts were probably quite wise... it’s best not to know too much of what has gone on before to get the characters into this situation in the first place.

Added to all this, we have a Marco Beltrami score which is typical of his excellent horror work and which really drums the scares into you... playing on the nerves in exactly the right moments to elicit the most adrenalin rushes as you watch. I’m really looking forward to the upcoming CD release of this so I can hear those grating, atonal, nerve shredding tones away from the movie.

So, yeah... I saw this on a day of preview screenings of the film at my local cinema on Easter Monday but it should be on general release in cinemas tomorrow and I would heartily recommend this to anyone who is either into horror movies or who doesn’t mind balancing on the edge of the cinema seat for an hour and a half. This is one of the scariest, well made genre pieces I’ve seen for a while and I’m really pleased I got to see this one on the big screen. Do not miss A Quiet Place... you’ll be holding your breath.

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