Five reasons you need to see John Krasinski’s low-budget thriller that stressed sold-out theaters into sweating silences all across America last weekend:
*mild spoilers below*
A Quiet Place boasts one of the best high-concept stories I’ve seen in a long time. High-concept means your story idea can be nut-shelled up in a pitch so unique and compelling, you’ve hooked an audience and the movie hasn’t even been made yet. Such movies can be sold from a pitch because they are pitch-driven.
Good stories don’t have to be high-concept (in which case their success depends entirely on execution), but high-concept stories do have the advantage of grabbing your attention by the log line alone. Example: A perfectly good movie might be about a soldier who wins the Medal of Honor…but a high-concept film is one about a conscientious objector who wins the Medal of Honor without firing a shot (Hacksaw Ridge).
The high-concept pitch for A Quiet Place is this: What if you had to raise your family of small children in a world ruled by monsters that disemboweled you in a split-second if you made any noise above a breath? That’s an idea any writer would love to run with. It’s also an idea that will get millions to hand over $11 at the ticket counter, no questions asked.
2. Not a horror movie
Horror flicks are fiends of careless gore. Their raison d’être is to scare the living snot out of you by the typical means of rotting mouths, demon possession, buckets of blood, and grinding fornication. Thrillers, on the other hand, rely more on psychological suspense. They make you fear, but they also make you think—and the payoff is usually better, meaning, there actually is some.
A Quiet Place is a thriller. It’s incredibly nerve-wracking, but the point isn’t to make you keep a light on at night. It doesn’t even need monsters. The story doesn’t depend on the genre at all. The true story is about a mother and father willing to lay down their lives every day for their children. Pick that up and drop it into Jane Austen; the soul of the story abides. And after the credits roll and you finally breathe an uneasy sigh of relief, it’s this soul that makes the movie so very worth remembering.
3. Technically brilliant
Even with a high concept, you still need to execute. A Quiet Place delivers on all points. Punchy story, believable and utterly sympathetic characters, phenomenal acting (see below), gorgeous sets and lighting, and absolutely mesmerizing, stomach-knotting manipulation of sound and silence (including a barely-there soundtrack by Marco Beltrami, who makes a living off of musical understatement). If you’re one of the thousands of aspiring filmmakers who’s strapped for cash, be encouraged. A Quiet Place is proof that you don’t need a filthy large budget to take the world by storm—as long as you obsess over story and execution.
4. Top-notch cast
John Krasinski was born to play a husband and father, that’s it. I would say he makes a great all-American father (reminiscent of Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan in Patriot Games and Brad Pitt in World War Z) except America has far too few fathers like him. Even more demanding is Emily Blunt’s role. Krasinski had already made the best decision ever (to write and direct the film) when he made an even better best decision ever: to cast his real-life wife as his on-screen wife. Blunt is, characteristically, quite lovely. She’s also insanely good at portraying fear and pain and a mother’s never-ending love and concern for her children. She and Krasinski deliver nothing but pure Oscar gold with their natural, delightful chemistry.
The two child actors are also breathtaking. Krasinski, his intuition never pointing anywhere but due north, insisted on casting an actual deaf actress as his deaf on-screen daughter—and Millicent Simmonds is an inspiration. As for Noah Jupe, he landed the role after Krasinski saw him in The Night Manager opposite Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie. “Should I get this kid?” he asked George Clooney, who had just directed Noah in Suburbicon. Clooney’s answer: Noah wasn’t just the best child actor he’d ever worked with, he was the best actor. That was enough for Krasinski.
5. Greater love
A Quiet Place doesn’t resonate because it’s a jumpy monster flick. It resonates because it brings the good news of sacrificial love to a starving America. Every minute of the film pulses with “my life for yours.” The parents spend nearly every waking minute pouring themselves out for the sake of their children, and training their children to do the same so that when things go haywire, the children know not just how to save themselves, but how to save each other.
I can’t remember the last movie that made me want to have a family, make dinner, pad around barefoot and pregnant, and help a child with his math. A Quiet Place’s honor and admiration for family life as God intended is deeply attractive. It offers an invitation to love our closest neighbors in the little ways, to lay down our lives through laundry and farming and slow after-dinner waltzes.
Krasinski’s character deserves his own special Father’s Day. He is strong, protective, wise, smart, funny, forgiving, and sacrificial to the extreme. His wife mirrors him, but in a way that is altogether feminine and appealing. Both of them are creating a heart-warming home in the midst of an ugly world, and bravely bringing new life into a place filled with death. The first time we see Emily Blunt’s baby-ripe belly, a girl behind me in the theater whispered: “Bad idea.” No. Good idea. It is the best idea. When death threatens to overcome the world, the only faithful response is to bring life in. It is worth the extra preparation, the stress, and the risk of losing that precious new life…or your own.
*Do not read this section unless you hate yourself*
1) Krasinski’s character should have openly taken responsibility for the youngest son’s death. Yes, his kids disobeyed, but he’s the father—he should have guaranteed the deadly toy was left behind, and he should have said as much…because it’s what his character would have done. The father spends the entire movie taking responsibility for the people in his charge; he would have acknowledged the role that his failure played in the tragic loss.
2) We really didn’t need the nail. Emily Blunt is already in labor and trying to survive contractions without making a sound, AND she’s completely alone in a monster-infested house while her husband and son are off getting food and her daughter is nursing a badittude. Isn’t she up against enough already? The nail is wanton cruelty. Even worse, after introducing the nail, the screenwriters conveniently forget about it. How can so many people (and monsters) tread the same stairs and miraculously dodge the Home Alone booby trap? This is one of the movie’s rare glitches that jolted me out of story grip.
3) The solution for defeating the monsters is discovered way too early…and realized way too late. Three or four times, the deaf daughter’s hearing aid produces horrendous feedback when too close to the monsters’ frequency. While the magic is immediately clear to us, the characters themselves don’t understand their secret weapon for far too long—a weapon that turns out to be beautifully providential, since the “useless” hearing aid was a gift from her tirelessly generous and patient father.
Of course it’s entirely realistic that a young girl wouldn’t immediately connect the dots, but the writers’ error is in explaining it so explicitly to the viewer while sadistically keeping their characters in the dark. Solution: The first two feedback occurrences should have been confusing enough to keep the audience puzzling just as much as the characters. Then the third time, everybody clues in: audience and characters together.
Why does this matter so much? Because the dragged-out “aha moment” both bores and frustrates. But far more importantly, it is unforgivable and gut-wrenchingly ironic that the girl discovers her weapon only after it could have saved her father’s life. The unnatural delay cheapens his sacrifice. Krasinski needn’t have died after all. The film’s greatest moment gets gutted.
Overall (okay, you’re safe again)
Creepily original. Technically brilliant. Heartwarming and hair-raising all at once. It’s a movie you can’t forget, and you don’t want to. The PG-13 rating is a sick and twisted joke, but A Quiet Place is far more than a hellish pressure cooker. It’s an invitation to live and die as heroes.