With No Sound There Is Still Plenty Of Fury
HP Lovecraft, one of the oft-forgotten godfathers of horror fiction, argued “it is a mistake to fancy that horror is associated inextricably with darkness, silence and solitude.” A Quiet Place certainly gives that statement a run for its money, delving deep into the well-trodden roots of horror and coming out the other side with a film that twists and turns along new paths. A simple canvass and compelling acting carries a film that seldom stumbles but requires a few pushes here and there to find its way out of the woods.
Set in the near future, The Abbot family has taken sanctuary on a rural farm from “Death Angels” – seemingly impenetrable sightless and smell-less creatures that hunt humans at the slightest sound. The film opens only a few months into the outbreak of these creatures, when the youngest son of the family is killed. Through a sense of fear and anguish that remains pitch-perfect throughout the film, a powerful intimacy is drawn between characters that suffer in silence from the loss. With that in mind, the plot device that is then used to give rise to so many frights and missteps over the course of the film feels frustratingly clumsy. In a world where sound is severe and silence is sacred, the decision to bring a baby into such an environment is nigh on psychotic.
The crying pangs of childbirth, the uncontrollable shrieks of babyhood, the unpredictable fallout of motherhood – these are elements that are hard enough to control in the best of conditions. Throw in a smattering of other-worldly, human-eating “Death Angels” that have wiped out the best part of humanity and it makes you question the sheer irresponsibility of two parents that have shown themselves to be level-headed and composed in every other regard.
Horror films invariably require a suspension of belief. It is a convention that often gives them license to explore frontiers of the human condition that are limited by the realism of other genres. However, the bothering decision to introduce a pregnancy festers like a ringing in your ear, growing in annoyance as the fallout of the decision becomes more and more severe.
Nevertheless, the birth of the child gives rise to some of the most compelling scenes in the movie. The sequences where Evelyn (Emily Blunt) gives birth and where she saves her baby from a creature lurking in the flooded basement are standout scenes. The raw performances by Emily Blunt and John Krasinski overcome the creases in the script to present every scene with the power with which it was intended. Perhaps the most notable performance, however, comes from Millicent Simmonds who plays Regan, the deaf daughter whose relationship with sound is carefully and eloquently juxtaposed with the hypersensitivity of the creatures. Playing out a very uncertain relationship with her character’s father, Simmonds demonstrates a spectrum of vulnerability and strength that mark her as the center of attention whenever she appears.
A Quiet Place earns its way as a bold new addition to a genre that, when done right, balances the thrill with the provocative like few other genres can do. Yet too often there are hitches in the plot, snags too soft to be heard in isolation but that crescendo collectively, which curtail the plot for the sake of a stumble forward. Nevertheless, the uneven journey is worth it.
More than the shrieks and the screams, the film details the unraveling of a family dynamic that never falters and that is powerfully played out. It is the ultimate unwinding of sound and fury, a phenomenon that invariably harks back to the Shakespeare quote:
“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day / To the last syllable of recorded time, / And all our yesterdays have lighted fools / The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! / Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage / And then is heard no more: it is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing.”
- Macbeth, Act V, Scene V
The world as the Abbot Family knows it is untenable. They struggle on, for nothing more than their unwavering commitment to one another, when death arguably seems a much fairer option. No story leans so heavily on the literal notion of the sound and the fury, but perhaps the foolishness and the significance upon this stage are for the viewer to decide. Personally, the foolishness may be present at times, but at no point is there a feeling that the significance is for naught.