Squad Talk: Whispering About A Quiet Place (2018)

Watching a film about a world where the slightest sound means certain death can lead to some pretty twisted revenge fantasies about fellow movie-goers who are chatting or loudly crunching their nachos. Here’s hoping you had a quiet viewing experience for 2018’s A Quiet Place, John Krasinski’s post-apocalyptic monster movie that is low on spoken dialogue and very high on tension. Three of us ventured into this terrifying world (and managed to refrain from chatting in the theatre).

As with all Squad Talks, we do dive deep and get into spoiler territory, so beware. (Honestly, you really should go see the film immediately — bookmark us and come back for our hot takes once you’ve seen it!)

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Valeska: Wow. Can we award John Krasinski the Julia Ducournau Award for first-time horror directors who absolutely knocked it out of the park? This film is an impressive achievement. Its terrifying premise lends itself to an extraordinary level of tension throughout, but that’s only half of the film’s impact; it’s also a poignant and effective familial drama exploring complicated and oft-heartbreaking themes of forgiveness and blame. I really loved how the daughter’s deafness played such a central role in the story while also being so normalized — I’m a big proponent of the importance of representation and I thought that the film (and the actress!) did a lovely job with the character, who was one of the most complex and sympathetic of the film.

Joe: I agree wholeheartedly. Often I find the family drama angle artificially shoehorned into horror narratives, but A Quiet Place’s conflicts are all inherently informed and driven by its relationships. I would go so far as to suggest that the film doesn’t work if you don’t invest in Regan’s feelings of guilt and Lee’s misplaced anger about their respective roles in the film’s opening setpiece.

What really stands out to me about A Quiet Place is how assured it is. This is a brief, ~85 minute film and it maximizes every minute of run time. There’s no flab; no extraneous sequences or characters. Everything and everyone has a function, the pacing is tight and the film doesn’t overextend its welcome. I hope that the strong box office will encourage future filmmakers to consider why the film connected with audiences. Sure, the premise is dynamite, but things could have easily gone pear-shaped if some very deliberate decisions about tone, pacing and performances hadn’t been made.  

CC: Totally agree with you both. Even in more experienced hands this could have been a total mess but it was so tightly woven together and deliberate that it was fantastic. I read where Krasinski watched movies like The VVitch and made notes of what caused him to experience tension and dread and brought that to this film. He even said he wasn’t even a “horror” fan before! Regardless, it’s an impressive film.

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Joe: I have a controversial statement: I didn’t care for Krasinski in this. I mean, he’s fine, but he’s not memorable for me and I think that any number of other mid-30 actors might have elevated this material even more. A friend mentioned Jake Gyllenhaal and I had been thinking of Hell or High Water’s Ben Foster, both of whom would have brought something more interesting.

For my money, it is the women who sell this film. Obviously it’s a great decision to cast an actual actress with a hearing impairment in the role, but as you note Valeska, Millicent Simmonds’ performance is fantastic – disability or no. I love how defiant and strong-willed Simmonds plays Regan, without ever losing that sense of raw, wounded vulnerability. It’s a surprisingly mature performance from a young actress and I hope we see Simmonds in other roles.

I’d be remiss not to mention Emily Blunt. I have a soft spot for Blunt: as an actress, she’s a real chameleon to me, disappearing effortlessly into really varied roles. It’s a bit manipulative to put a pregnant woman in danger, but the concern that I felt for Evelyn when the shit hits the fan, from the nail to the bathtub to the watery basement, a lot of that credit goes to Blunt’s capacity to make me empathize with her.

Valeska: Agreed on almost all counts, though I actually did rather appreciate Krasinski’s expressive performance. Emily Blunt initially turned down the role, and didn’t agree to take it until another actress had already been cast. It came close to being a very different film, and I’m thankful that Blunt changed her mind at the 11th hour. As art imitates life, theirs was a perfect on-screen pairing.

CC: I can see where Joe is coming from with Krasinski’s role but I thought he was more of this empty vessel that you’re able to kind of relate to in terms of terror and just the overall unknowingness in an apocalyptic world. Which is interesting because we’re often given women who are more of those undefined types of characters.

Blunt is amazing and I’ve been a huge fan of hers since Scario and she just brings everything in herself to this character. I really love how tender and grounded she is as a mother but also is the sense of humor and really the strong glue that holds this family together. Ohh Simmonds….I want to watch everything this girl does in the future. She was absolutely magnetic to watch. She really embodies that turmoil of adolescence and the terror of growing up regardless of what your surroundings. I also loved that she really had a lot of influence on the script and how it was signed in ASL and how to make it more authentic.

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Valeska: One thing that did distract me throughout the film was my anger at John Krasinski’s character for impregnating his wife in this hopeless situation. Both the situation and my reaction are problematic, and it’s given me a lot to think about since my viewing. After all, we don’t know the circumstances of the conception — was it an accident? Was it planned? Even if they both agreed to and wanted this, isn’t it objectively unethical and cruel to bring an infant (who doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “quiet”) into a world where anything above a whisper means certain death? Death not only for the infant, but for the entire family, including their two older children?

In post-apocalyptic films and stories, there is often this imperative to repopulate the world, and these high-stakes reproductive politics are necessarily gendered. Pregnancy at the best of times carries a level of risk, and a zombie- or alien- or monster-filled world is leagues away from the ideal circumstances for reproduction. I’ve gotten into arguments with people over the ethical implications of forced reproduction in those circumstances — is it worth it to repopulate the world if it comes at the expense of the bodily autonomy of half of the population? Granted, that’s not the situation in A Quiet Place, but the plot did bring up a lot of questions and feelings for me. 

Joe: I also had a fleeting moment of judgment when the pregnancy was revealed and as I suggested above, it could be interpreted as an emotionally manipulative element to introduce into the film (were it not for her pregnancy, how much of the film would have been avoided?). Still, the reality of a dystopia is that there is that need to repopulate the world.

In some ways, it feels like a good equalizer: how will a family well-conditioned to survive a sound-based apocalypse thanks to their ability to sign deal with something that cannot be silenced? Still, it’s hard not to think about how much easier their lives would be without bringing a crying baby into the mix!

Valeska: I think men are able to be a lot more cavalier about the whole “repopulating the world” issue. As a woman, the sexual/reproductive threat is what I find most terrifying about the idea of an apocalypse. If we were given enough warning before a catastrophic disaster or zombie outbreak, my first instinct would be to immediately book a hysterectomy. (Oh, and Lasik, but that’s an entirely different issue.)

CC: I had mixed feelings on this too. I do appreciate that we aren’t really given a lot of details of the 9 months between the beginning of the movie and where the action really picks up but I did question that decision in general. I realize it “ups” the tension for the film to have one of the main characters pregnant and, as Valeska said, how much would have been avoided had that not happened? The chemistry between the parents made me kind of feel like it was more of an unplanned thing but that could just be me hoping. Regardless, you can definitely count me out as on the train to repopulate during the apocalypse. It does seem rather selfish and illogical – especially in a world where sound is the largest threat.

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Valeska: I thought the ending was very Shyamalanian, but I was pretty okay with that. I’m usually a fan of nihilistic endings, but I adored all of the characters so much that I’d’ve been heartbroken if we hadn’t been given that ray of hope.

Joe: My biggest quibble with the film (overlooking all of the inane logistical questions about power, how are they tending that giant field of crops, etc) was the big event that leads into the ending: Lee’s death. I felt like the majority of A Quiet Place played fair and consistent, but why exactly does the creature attack Lee after he has rescued the kids at the corn silo? From what I saw, none of them made any noise, but suddenly he’s getting attacked and they’re running for the truck. It was a contrivance that didn’t work for me.

I didn’t mind the actual ending: it definitely evokes Shyamalan’s Signs with a suggestion of an optimism resolution, albeit without actually confirming that the invasion is under control. The sheer number of creatures rolling up to the farm suggests a major battle, but I was more than happy to end on a moment of mutual female empowerment that gave me straight up Aliens-esque vibes.

CC: I’m not elated with how it ended either, but I appreciated it that was not one but two females who were really the saviors for this family. I don’t know how else I would have wanted it to end but it seemed to kind of help elevate a little of the tension so I didn’t feel the need to seek out a massage immediately leaving the theater. Regardless, I was still really satisfied and happy with the movie overall.

 

Were you happy with your own visit to A Quiet Place? Let us know in the comments.

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