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'A Quiet Place' creates a chilling post-apocalyptic horror through its creative sound design

Emily Blunt and Millicent Simmonds in A QUIET PLACE, from Paramount Pictures.

In “A Quiet Place,” John Krasinski -- most famous for his role in “The Office” -- decides to take his first plunge into the horror genre as director and leading actor. What results is a compelling exploration of one of the most crucial elements involved in the making of a successful horror film: sound design.

The film follows a small family as they navigate life in a rural, post-apocalyptic -- perhaps post-alien invasion -- landscape. It is clear from the initial trailer as well as the opening sequence of the film that it is crucial that the family -- led by a rugged Krasinski and Emily Blunt -- remain as silent as possible, to avoid alerting a group of grotesque monsters intent on hunting and killing anything that makes noise.

Through some deft exposition, it is revealed that these creatures are blind, but have a heightened sense of hearing. Lee (Krasinski), Evelyn (Blunt) and their three children utilize various methods to ensure they make as little sound as possible, including sanding the ground and traveling without shoes to dampen footsteps.

While there is some dialogue in the film, its largest merit is its ability to convey the story visually. The cast is extremely expressive and deliberate in all of their facial expressions and motions, laboring to make as little noise as possible while performing mundane tasks like picking up a bottle of pills.

The score is used sparingly, instead focusing on building tension with silence. This, predictably, is where most of the horror comes from in “A Quiet Place.” The silence in the film is oppressive, but never betrays the trust of the viewer. A lesser film would have established a cadence of silence followed up with a cheap jump-scare, but “A Quiet Place” is insistent on gaining your trust through its use of sound, making it more of an organic presence than a gimmick or a tool.

Where “A Quiet Place” excels in technical prowess, it lacks in narrative intrigue. Krasinski’s daughter in the film (Millicent Simmonds) is the subject of most of the film’s drama, but it is difficult to understand what her motivations are exactly. She clearly blames herself for something that had happened early in the film, and believes that her father doesn’t love her as a result. This is poorly explored, and her behavior does not coincide with what she claims to be feeling. This is likely more of a problem with the script, not the actress.

The film also seems to force some of its most intense moments; many of the actions that incited the movie’s many games of cat and mouse were careless mistakes instigated by people who, after living in a world filled with these hunters for over a year, should know better. While the family haphazardly finds themselves in a number of avoidable situations, it never takes away from the tension that builds as a result of these consequential mishaps.

One of the film’s most remarkable elements is the casting of Simmonds, who has been deaf since infancy, Despite a poorly written character, she steals the show. Some of the interactions between Krasinski and Blunt garnered some laughs from the audience, but more than anything this is probably just a result of Krasinski’s past as a comedic actor.

The stakes get higher and higher throughout “A Quiet Place,” and the ways the family combats the onslaught of monsters attacking their home get increasingly elaborate. It becomes clear that the family had a number of contingencies in place to distract and hide from the creatures. This element makes this post-apocalyptic world seem much more lived-in, and allows the viewer to forgive the numerous uses of deus ex machina in the final act.

Overall, “A Quiet Place” is a smart, imaginative horror movie with a convincing cast and a terrifying monster design. Stopping short of calling the film innovative -- films like “Don’t Breathe” have tread similar ground -- Krasinski is able to construct an engaging, concise work of weekend entertainment, with forgivable flaws.

Grade: B+

“A Quiet Place” was released in theaters Friday, April 6 2018

bermer@theeagleonline.com


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