Once upon a time, I didn’t write these lengthy self-indulgent film reviews. Another age, I know, but, you know what? It means that though I saw A Quiet Place when it came out, it never got a review. Well, I just saw it in a double bill with the new sequel, so here goes.
The film’s great selling power is its sense of novelty. I know that much of the plot consists of well-worn horror tropes, and the creepy lizard monsters seem to have wandered in off the set of Alien, but there is a sense of freshness in the “don’t make any noise or you’ll be liquidated by creepy things” plot that means that we really feel that we are in the presence of something new.
On top of this, director John Krasinski shows a judicious handling of Chekhovian guns. On several occasions, the camera focuses in on something that we know is going to have a significant role in future plot. Even on a second viewing – when I knew what this role is and when it will be used – I still jumped out of my seat when the gun (or metaphorical equivalent) was actually used. So, full marks for the use of dramatic tension.
The opening of the film is also a corker. On the grounds that it’s not a plot spoiler if it happens in the first few reels (particularly if the film’s a few years old now) here’s what we see. A family of five is tiptoeing through an abandoned supermarket. They take what’s useful, particularly medicines, and stuff it into their rucksacks, before making their way home as quietly as possible.
As they approach a bridge, the youngest boy pulls out a toy rocket that he pilfered and inserts some batteries. Hearing the jingly noises, his father turns round and rushes to try to save him. But it’s too late. Attracted by the sound, the creatures from hell appear in a whoosh. The family of five is now a family of four.
This tells us pretty much everything we need to know in terms of plot. The rest of the film consists of the family at home, trying to stay quiet. Even though it only lasts 90 minutes (and please, could more films only last 90 minutes), that’s a lot of time for nothing to happen. It’s a testament to the power of the film that not only does the tension remain throughout, but you never feel that it’s too short.
I do have one fundamental problem, though. The wife of the family (even though the daughter is deaf, allowing them all to be accomplished users of sign language, they have little use for names) is pregnant. I seem to remember that when the film came out some reviews said she must have conceived before the Unpleasantness. Well, only if she has the gestation period of an elephant, as when the baby is born, it is way past Day 400.
Now this is a film which prioritises family above all else, and it is true that less practical parents could have tried for a child after losing their son so tragically. But this is not an impractical family. Where anyone else might have just given up in despair, they have erected a body of sound proofing and security cameras that NASA would envy. I find it difficult to believe that people responsible for this level of planning would have a baby – planned or unplanned.
Besides which, under the current circumstance, you would not want to bring a baby into this world. Not only would it be unfair to inflict this sort of existence on the baby, it would be an absolute liability. Babies are somewhat loud and unpredictable. Why all the work setting up all the defensive equipment if you’re going to render yourself utterly vulnerable like this?
There’s a meaner version of the film where they – reluctantly, but out of necessity – murder the baby to save other lives. But there is a streak of sentimentality running through that means that there is no likelihood that this will happen. Nonetheless, this is a minor quibble, and – for a change – A Quiet Place really does deserve all the hype.
Finally, what about the talk that A Quiet Place is a metaphor for Covid, or Trump, or whatever? On a literal level, you can very quickly take the analogy way too far. But there could hardly be a better time to have a film about an invisible evil which is forcing us to quiver in fear at home. This may not exactly be a film about our times, but it is certainly a film for our times.