It’d be nice if A Quiet Place were exasperating. If, after seventy or eighty minutes of building tension, the finale somehow disappointed. It doesn’t. It’s not exactly predictable, but by the time it arrives, it’s been obvious for a while the movie’s not really going anywhere. The film’s split into three days. The first day is the prologue, about four months into some kind of invasion of Earth by giant monsters. Not like Godzilla giant monsters, but like fifteen foot tall giant monsters. Who apparently eat people? Doesn’t matter. They can’t see. They hunt by hearing. They kind of look like giant walking bats but without wings and Alien heads. The prologue introduces the film’s big device–no talking, no noise. The cast moves through the world, desperately trying not to make any noise. They’ve got to get some medicine for a sick child.
There’s dad John Krasinski, mom Emily Blunt, daughter Millicent Simmonds (who’s deaf), older son (Noah Jupe)–he’s the sick one, and younger son Cade Woodward. The prologue serves to showcase how important it is the be quiet and to give the characters some angst for later.
Fast forward sixteen months and the family is living in a farmhouse. There’s a new baby on the way, because even though Krasinski is dutifully trying to communicate via shortwave and he’s got the farm wired with closed circuit monitors and he’s working on a hearing device for Simmonds (teaching himself engineering), it apparently never occurred to him to rubberband his gonads. No worries though, because while Krasinski is working on his electronics stuff, Blunt’s making a covered baby crib complete with an oxygen tank for when the little tyke arrives, which is weeks off.
After that catchup with the family, the film cuts to another day. The cuts to days all have title cards giving the day. Except it’s just the next day. Most of the movie takes place on this third day, the day after the second day, when it becomes clear most of the time since the prologue hasn’t been making sure they’re prepared. Not for the baby, not for the monsters. As the film progresses, it just becomes more and more obvious–even though Krasinski is supposedly super-prepared, he’s really not. Sure, Woodward’s like three or something, but Jupe and Simmonds are tweens. And Krasinski has never come up with a plan for if they’re separated on the property?
The film gets away with not having much exposition–the family talks, with rare exception, entirely in American Sign Language (presumably they know it because of Simmonds) and rarely does it give the actors much emoting to do while signing. Outside Simmonds. It’s unfortunate because when Krasinski and Blunt have their first talk, it’s some really trite parenting responsibility nonsense. A Quiet Place has all the depth of a Disney TV movie as far as adult characterization, but without any of the charm. Oddly, the kids are fantastic. Simmonds has to do a bunch on her own, she’s great. Jupe’s the oldest male so he’s got to learn how to be a man in this new world and he’s terrified. He’s great. Simmonds and Jupe together (when they’re in trouble because Krasinski never came up with a plan for them getting across their farm to their house) are truly amazing. And a lot of it is how Krasinski, as director, works with the actors.
It’s kind of inexplicable why he doesn’t apply the same rigor to he and Blunt’s performances.
The script wants to get away with not having any exposition, which is fine. It kind of makes things more horrifying, but not really. The quiet device is about all A Quiet Place has got going for it; the monsters are nowhere near as terrifying as when the family gets into trouble because, usually, they’re exceptionally careless and unprepared for any common life occurrences. Contrivances are forecast–Krasinski’s not a subtle director, which is fine, he’s not trying to be subtle (Quiet Place is most effective in how it works as visual exposition, since no one’s talking the audience has to be able to understand what they’re seeing)–but also cheap. Lots of cheap contrivance. A Quiet Place is a comedy of errors; or a tragedy of them.
Good photography from Charlotte Bruus Christensen. Not bad but not special editing from Christopher Tellefsen. Marco Beltrami’s score is spare and only used–albeit effectively–for the film’s cheapest emotional moments.
Acting wise… Simmonds and Jupe impress. No one else does. Krasinski’s good with the kids. Blunt’s not bad with them but she’s not good with them either. Because of the short present action, she barely gets anything to do with Simmonds and her one big scene with Jupe is overcooked. Not even trying to establish the adults until an hour into the movie hurts; for some reason Krasinski thinks he can get away with them sharing headphones and slow dancing but… no. Especially not since their sole motivation is protecting their kids.
A Quiet Place is strongest in the first act. It declines from there. The film’s at its weakest point as it goes into the third act (at least its weakest point so far). It’s completely lost momentum, splitting between Blunt home alone and the rest of the family off in the world. And then it just keeps slipping.
By the end, A Quiet Place isn’t disappointing, just annoying. The quiet thing works in a horror movie. Who knew. Outside Simmonds and Jupe, there’s nothing to it.