A Quiet Place
An almost silent movie?
I may owe Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn an apology. In last month’s review, I claimed that the sound-editing award makes for a good time to grab a snack during the Academy Award broadcast. Then I saw A Quiet Place, a movie in which sound—or lack thereof—is essentially the movie’s main character. While the actors and directing were excellent, it is Aadahl and Van der Ryn’s sound design that triggers every seat-squirming moment in this new thriller.
The story takes place in the year 2020, when mysterious monsters wipe out most of the earth’s population. Completely blind, the monsters hunt by sound. Any loud noise will lead them to hunt. The Abbott family is among the survivors and lives on a rural farm. They live in fear—and silence. They walk barefoot everywhere, spread sand on pathways, and are able to speak primarily through sign language because their oldest child, Regan, is deaf.
The audience plays a vital role in the movie’s sound. People around me stopped eating their popcorn and sipping drinks because even a simple swallow could end up being the loudest sound in the theater.
The movie is sparse on dialogue, with only two verbal conversations in the entire film. The audience can hear quiet footsteps much of the time, and when the camera focuses on Regan, the sound cuts off completely. The silence is supplemented occasionally with Marco Beltrami’s ominous score.
Parents Evelyn and Lee Abbott, played by real-life married couple Emily Blunt and John Krasinski, work to create a safe home environment that includes security cameras and a control room, a lighting system that tells the level of danger, and soundproof rooms. To complicate matters, Evelyn is pregnant. Having a silent childbirth and a non-fussy newborn creates some obvious challenges.
Therein lies the suspense and intrigue of the movie. Moviegoers know there are going to be loud noises and that they could come at any moment. They just don’t know when, why, or how. This is not edge-of-your-seat entertainment; rather, you curl up in your seat and put your hand over your face, leaving an opening for one eye to peek out with curiosity.
The audience plays a vital role in the movie’s sound. People around me stopped eating their popcorn and sipping drinks because even a simple swallow could end up being the loudest sound in the theater. I saw it in a half-full theater that featured almost zero audience noise. Even though gasping or screaming would have been a natural reaction to some of the surprise scenes, everyone in the audience basically became de facto members of the Abbott family and lived by their rules. I’m fully immersed in spring allergy season, but even I was too on edge to sneeze for an hour and a half.
The silence is uncomfortable and reminds us how rare and valuable true silence really is. We live most of our lives in bustling cities, in computer-filled offices, and with phones in our pockets. While sitting in silence is beneficial and can renew someone’s energy and spirit, it’s difficult—even if our lives depended on it.
While the movie is technically classified as a horror film, it isn’t gory or particularly violent. It is intense and has the potential raise blood pressure. For a horror film, however, it has a lot of heart and emotion. The family, while under a lot of stress, is worth rooting for. Horror is a genre I rarely enjoy, if ever, but A Quiet Place proved to be the exception. I found it well worth my time of 90 minutes of squirming (silently, of course) and would even watch it again in order to notice even more how sound controls all the action.
While the viewing may be uncomfortable most of the time, the film is wonderfully executed. In addition to acting, Krasinski directed the film and collaborated on the screenplay. Blunt’s performance is nuanced and gritty. She had the strongest acting chops in the movie, especially during the scene where her water breaks and sets off a string of intense action. The entire film is executed well, from the acting, directing, cinematography, and of course, sound.
While I’m not guaranteeing the Aadahl and Van der Ryn will win the Academy Award for sound editing, it’s hard to believe there could be any other sound crew that will have as strong an impact on a film as they have. And if they’re nominated next year, I will listen intently for their names to be called.
3.5/4 stars. Rated PG-13 for intensity, scary images, and causing grown adults to curl up in a fetal position. It is possible to eat popcorn during the film, but it needs to be done during any scene with music. Basically, you’ll have time for one handful of popcorn and a sip of soda every time music plays. Mom and Dad: Noooooooooooo.
Like this review? See more from Matthew Kauffman Smith here.