Sunday, April 8, 2018

In Theaters: A QUIET PLACE (2018)

(US - 2018)

Directed by John Krasinski. Written by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and John Krasinski. Cast: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cade Woodward, Leon Russom. (PG-13, 90 mins)

Even in the most tightly-written screenplays, there's going to be things you can pick at and call a "plot hole," though most people using that term rarely do so correctly. A QUIET PLACE isn't exactly airtight in its execution, with a couple of head-scratching "plot conveniences" or "plot inconsistencies," let's call them, but it's a chilling, visceral, stomach-in-knots experience in horror moviegoing that we just don't see much anymore. It's PG-13 and the gore is minimal and fleeting, but A QUIET PLACE knows how to manipulate an audience and in the process, director/co-writer/star John Krasinski (yes, that John Krasinski) creates one of the most fascinating social experiments in recent memory. Can you recall the last time you went to a see a movie in a packed theater on its opening weekend and the audience--the entire audience--behaved perfectly? No talking, no phones lit up, no loud snacking, only an occasional cough and some relieved exhaling after any number of well-executed suspense set pieces (that bit with the nail will have you holding your breath with dread). I don't even think anyone got up to use the restroom. A QUIET PLACE dives right into its story in medias res (the opening title card reads "Day 89") and essentially conditions its audience to go along because no one wants to be the asshole who breaks the silence and ruins it for everyone. I won't go so far as to call Krasinski the DGA equivalent of Ivan Pavlov or Stanley Milgram, but let this film serve as proof that civility and courtesy can be part of present-day multiplex attendance. Nevermind the Oscars or the Golden Globes--Krasinski's accomplishment here practically qualifies him for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Produced by Michael Bay, of all people (Krasinski starred in his 13 HOURS), and set in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic America in the very near future, A QUIET PLACE opens with an unimaginable tragedy: a family witnessing the death of their youngest member after he's attacked and whisked away by a barely-glimpsed creature moving with lightning speed. In the minutes preceding this, we're introduced to the dad (Krasinski), mom (Emily Blunt), deaf teenage daughter (Millicent Simmonds), and pre-teen son (Noah Jupe) silently procuring supplies at an abandoned store and walking home barefoot. A toy rocketship grabbed by the youngest child (he's four) at the store--and he put the batteries in with no one looking--starts making noises unexpectedly, alerting the creature to their location, killing their third child before his father can save him. Cut to "Day 472," and the family has their survival routine down. It seems some kind of alien invasion wiped out much of America and, it would seem the world, with some bands of survivors in scattered rural pockets (from atop a grain silo, there's a few observable campfires in the distance, but with one brief exception, we meet no one else), and the common knowledge now being that you're safe if you're silent. They have paths made around the farm, paint marks on the steps to delineate where to walk to avoid creaking boards, and they're in the midst of constructing a soundproof room in anticipation of the next member of the family, due in two weeks and certain to generate a lot of noise (and of course, that water's gonna break at the worst possible time). The first third of A QUIET PLACE just shows the daily routine and how, with kids being kids, noise will be made regardless of how careful they are (especially a concern for the daughter, who can't tell if the floors creak as she walks). Because the daughter is deaf (as is young Simmonds, as Krasinski pushed for a hearing-impaired actress for the part), the family knows sign language. Conversations are conveyed in subtitles, and the first audible line of dialogue doesn't even occur until 40 minutes in, when father and son are able to have a regular conversation while hiding under a waterfall while out fishing.

Of course you may ask "Why can't the monsters hear the water?" Or "Why do they have picture frames precariously hanging on the wall?" A QUIET PLACE works as long as you go along for the ride, though it's one of those films where you're riveted while watching it but you're asking questions by the time you get to your car and have had time to think about it. In a way, it's a throwback to M. Night Shyamalan in his prime (SIGNS, especially), and like the good Shyamalan films, your first experience with it will be the best experience, because you're aware of everything on subsequent viewings. There's no Shyamalanian twist to A QUIET PLACE, and it's tense and involving enough to warrant repeat viewings, but some of the more plot-convenient cracks, structural flaws, and lapses in logic will be more apparent. It's tough to pull off a movie that's largely silent except for some infrequent whispers and some Marco Beltrami music cues, but credit to Krasinski and his actors for pulling it off. As a director (this is his third feature, after 2009's BRIEF INTERVIEWS WITH HIDEOUS MEN, which is about as watchable as you'd expect a David Foster Wallace adaptation to be, and 2016's little-seen drama THE HOLLARS), Krasinski graciously leaves the biggest dramatic moments to his offscreen wife Blunt and an impressive Simmonds, whose character is reaching that age where headstrong rebellion is innate and she's tired of the unintentional marginalization by her father due to her disability and his possibly passive-aggressive blaming her for the youngest child's death (she handed the toy back to him after Dad took it away, but this kid does at least three other things in the first two minutes that could've gotten them all killed). Almost every thought and emotion has to be communicated silently in A QUIET PLACE, and it's a gamble that pays off. The audience was with this from the first ominous moment until the crowd-pleasing final shot. Even in big tentpole movies that make $200 million in their opening weekend, you'll have people talking, texting, checking Instagram, Snapchatting, fidgeting, getting up, walking around, and being generally insufferable pains in the ass.  In an era where the viability of cinemas is constantly in question due to streaming, VOD, and ever-changing distribution platforms, A QUIET PLACE is the kind of communal moviegoing experience that serves as a welcome reminder of how satisfying seeing a good, scary movie with a equally captivated audience can be.

No comments:

Post a Comment