John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place lingers on some intriguing questions of temporality, asking viewers to discern what sense there is in continuing with the present when the future has been catalogued. The future of A Quiet Place is stripped of impulse, a world robbed of a dissenting voice, echoes of pleasure, or the uproar of personal victories. In what will undoubtedly be cited as a critical breakthrough for Krasinski, A Quiet Place punishes its characters for broadcasting even the slightest of whispers, where the film tacitly corresponds noise, and really, resistance, with death. Such a commentary isn’t necessarily realized as abstraction either. Instead, there’s a literal monster that’s beckoned by the slightest tumult. But it’s in the implication, particularly given the narrative direction of where A Quiet Place goes, that is notably inspired: where modern political discourse finds marginalized voices brutally muzzled by omnipresent figures, silence can sometimes be your only refuge. Yet, the greatest challenge I found in appreciating A Quiet Place stems from its theoretically intriguing conceits melded with, shall we say, an inelegant and utilitarian formal design. The ideas here sing; its execution mumbles.
The film is divided into three distinct stages prefaced by title cards indicating the day. “Day 89”, not so much a first act as it is a prelude, establishes the post-apocalyptic world of A Quiet Place, capturing the barefoot monotony, dangers of the film’s world, and its central characters, the Abbots. Evelyn and Lee (Emily Blunt and John Krasinski) guide their three children into a general store, acquiring supplies to take back to their nearby compound. There’s Marcus (Noah Jupe), first seen slumped over and ill, in a kind of atrophied state that he’ll need to emerge from as the film proceeds. The youngest, Beau (Cade Woodward) is seen insisting on taking a toy. His father proceeds to remove the toy’s batteries before setting it aside. As the troupe proceeds out of the store, it’s the eldest, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), who gives the toy back to Beau. He’s grateful, though as she turns to rejoin the family we see Beau quickly swipe the batteries off the counter. And with that your audience will groan with recognition of what’s to come.
Krasinski competently composes these early sequences. He holds his camera low, conveying a sense of subtle dread in exploring the aisles of the general store. The details that emerge from this opening sequence are vital in establishing the characters’ motivations and their distinctive traits, as he goes through some rather strained efforts to convey information without rendering it in dialogue. This, however, eventually becomes one of the film’s more unbearable qualities. I understand the filmmaker’s desire for clarity, but there’s a measure of trust that Krasinski seems unable or unwilling to afford to his audience, especially as the film barrels toward its inevitable conclusion. His frequent and frankly self-defeating use of Marco Beltrami’s score serves as a crutch to dispel ambiguity, stripping the intrigue of some of the film’s more climatic moments. Krasinski’s explicit need for clarity also jumbles the film’s pacing in drastic ways - the conclusion to “Day 89” is especially rushed and seems to learn nothing from the filmmaker that Kransinski is most clearly emulating: Steven Spielberg.
The debt that Krasinski owes to Spielberg is sizable, as numerous passages of A Quiet Place’s bare a strong resemblance to films like Close Encounters, Jurassic Park, and even Jaws. But those films valued a more measured, comparatively leisure pace to A Quite Place, which frequently struggles to convey the anxieties and preoccupations of their characters. As the film moves from “Day 89” to “Day 472” and “Day 473”, the prevailing sentiment is that none of these characters have been sketched beyond the outline of their traits and how they service the gimmick of the narrative. And that’s perhaps the most profoundly disappointing aspect of A Quiet Place. Here’s a film that placates on abstractions like the value of life and the oft-terrifying need to exercise one’s voice when confronted with insurmountable odds, but does so in such a blandly innocuous and flat way. The ending in particular, an unintentional(?) treatise that finds the liberal virtues of science cooperate with the conservative hand of a shotgun, more or less demonstrates the uneven mode in which Krasinski’s filmmaking operates; which is to suggest that you can’t rush the ephemeral. Or: a film about silence shouldn’t be this loud.