I never really thought of myself as a huge horror fan, but ever since I started watching Svengoolie fairly regularly on Saturday nights did I realize how important the genre was when I was growing up.  I just thought of the appeal being limited to just old B-movies, but since then I’ve seen some recent ones, classified as either horror or thriller or something inbetween.

One thing I’ve realized is that premise is extremely important with horror movies.  They usually involve taking everyday people and putting them into harm’s way.  This usually means placing serious constraints on them.  The cliche’ of the rainstorm and the flat-tire requiring a stay in a spooky mansion, for instance, as parodied by Rocky Horror.

After Rotten Tomatoes’ high scores I decided to check out A Quiet Place to see what the buzz was about, and came out feeling that I saw a competent scary romp with a fair bit of novelty, but not quite as much left to think about as the similar Annihilation.

The premise is a simple one, a bunch of seemingly alien zombie-like creatures have already infested (and mostly depopulated) the earth who can’t see but have superhuman hearing.  Any loud noise that isn’t perceived as part of the regular background of nature (babling brooks, waterfalls, wind) will attract the nearby monsters almost instantaneously, although the monsters are fairly spread out therefore usually only one attacks at a time.

The film felt very short, both because of it starting in medias res as well as ending at something far short of a final conclusion.  In fact it was open-ended enough that it almost cries out for a sequel, which probably can’t happen due to the child actors.

I think the main reason the film got good reviews is that by avoiding dialogue, the film needs to lean heavily on body-language.  I have been a student of the art of body language in acting for some time now.  It’s really an underappreciated aspect of acting.  In the silent era, that’s all actors had to work with, and so acting was more like dance or pantomime.  This is a family raising a deaf child, and therefore they are well equipped to suffer through a world of keeping silent by virtue of their use of sign-language.  This signing-with-subtitles aspect reminded me heavily of the recent Planet of the Apes films, where ape dialogue was few and far between and sign language was used instead.  I believe that in both cases this was a gimmick in order for the filmmakers to put extra emphasis on body language and facial expression rather than dialogue.

The withholding of a component of a medium that we take for granted can often result in a better work of art.  The use of black & white in Raging Bull, Schindler’s List, or Ed Wood, for instance, was a very deliberate creative decision.  It doesn’t happen that often, though.  By couching this as a gimmick within a pulpy horror scenario it’s easier to take than, let’s say, the film was just a simple drama between deaf actors who communicate through sign.  After seeing this film, however, I think I could very well enjoy a film featuring deaf leads, and I’m sure there are some.

As such I think it’s a “healthy” exercise to watch a film like this insofar as it forces you to adjust how you watch it.  During the showing, while the soundtrack was anything but completely silent, it was definitely quiet, so much so that the usual noise from people opening bags or chattering in the background was intensified.  In fact, early on someone was making a scene to the side because (I guess) he felt his assigned seat had been stolen.  (Yes, it was one of those showings with big lounge chairs).  This was so obnoxious that some people shouted at him to STFU and find any open seat, upon which I clapped in solidarity.  It actually took a police officer/security guard coming in to get the guy to stop ranting and raving.  It’s an impressive theater but perhaps not located in the best neighborhood in the world.  But that situation gave the experience an unintended “4D” quality of the sense of danger extending beyond the screen.

Not to go over too much of the plot, but the biggest hole in it was that it’s never explained how the farm they’re living in has electricity, as the grid has to be down.  I can only assume that it’s off-grid solar with a battery-bank, because if they had a generator it would be too noisy AND they’d probably run out of fuel for it.  They also have access to oxygen and masks, from where, it’s not explained.  Like any zombie style story, you can assume they’ve scavenged.  The value of a film like this is as a what-if story.  Making it feel realistic is…not as important.

Another nagging question was why it is they keep running away from rather than engaging the monsters toe-to-toe with firepower.  At one point you see a whiteboard with the term “armor” on it suggesting the monsters are not easily wounded.  But it takes a long time before any of them try to fight back.  In fact they have a serious lack of firepower.  While it’s true that using guns would only attract more monsters who would then overwhelm them, it seems that you’d be better off with a stash of guns and ammo than without.  It also makes me wonder why the established military was unable to control them, as they seem strong but not so strong that they could survive being hit with a gatling gun or bombed.

This nagging passivity reminded me of the original Ridley Scott Alien, which James Cameron addressed head-on with Aliens.  In Alien, Ripley is merely a survivor.  In Aliens, she (and the marines) take the fight to them, and while the Aliens are certainly the superior force, there are plenty of satisfying scenes where several of them get chewed to bits in gunfire or blown up by grenades.  But here it’s a classic monster movie formula of an unexpected weakness being discovered, something not that different from what was used for comedic effect in Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks.  Considering the suffering these monsters inflicted on their victims, I felt somewhat cheated by the lack of Rambo-like retribution inflicted.  I would think something high-powered but quiet such as a crossbow could have been used to maim or kill them.

I also felt a couple of the setups for future unexpected noise-generators was obvious.  But that’s probably a function of me being such a jaded guy for having seen so many movies that I can usually see things a few steps ahead.  Nevertheless, I did not predict how abrupt the ending was, not that it made the film better that way, but sometimes it is best to leave the audience wanting more.

So in summery, I will give this film a solid B.