I really liked “Don’t Breathe,” the horror movie from 2016 with the blind antagonist and potential victims who had to be careful to not make a sound. That movie had interesting characters, a unique setting, and some great scares. “A Quiet Place” keeps the silence, but forgoes the other elements.
The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where a family struggles to stay alive amidst an invasion by blind creatures who want to eat everything they hear. It’s a rural area, but three local creatures can turn the family into an instant banquet if one of them makes a sound that gives away their location. While the credits assign names to the family members, you’ll just know them as the father (John Krasinski, who directed and co-wrote the film), the mother (Emily Blunt, Krasinski’s real-life wife), the daughter (Millicent Simmonds), and the son (Noah Jupe). There’s another, younger son (Cade Woodward), but he decides to put batteries into a noisemaking toy and is picked off quickly. The other characters take turns blaming themselves for his death, but he had so little common sense that it’s hard to imagine he would have lasted much longer anyway.
Not that the other characters make great decisions either. Fifteen months into the invasion, the mother is expecting a baby. Way to go Mom and Dad, you’re bringing a child into this bleak world with no discernable quality of life and an excellent chance that its crying will get it killed. The father spends his days soundproofing the family compound, trying unsuccessfully to radio for help, and researching the creatures and how to evade or defeat them. His research is pretty pathetic, it includes a dry-erase board with the word “Weakness?” on it. This tells the audience that he’s trying to find a weakness, but why did he need to write it down? Would he have forgotten to try to find a weakness otherwise?
The film has been eager to advertise its gimmick of containing almost no dialogue, so how does it fare in that department? Completely average. The family communicates using sign language, which they knew even before the invasion because the daughter is deaf. They have that going for them, but they’re otherwise not as good at concealing sounds as the movie wants us to think they are. If the aliens really are that good at picking up on sounds, they’d see right through (uh, hear right through?) cheat tactics like the family walking everywhere barefoot and distracting them with substitute sounds. I know that this is a movie that wants to draw us into its “tense atmosphere,” but having to stay quiet to avoid detection is nothing new for the horror or action genre. This movie just has more of those scenes than usual. That doesn’t make the film groundbreaking, it just means that there’s not a lot of variety to its scares.
I know a lot of critics have fallen for “A Quiet Place.” My last check of the Rotten Tomatoes review site saw the film with a 97% Fresh rating. I must confess that I have no idea what so many people see in this film. To me, this is a movie about halfwitted people outwitting dimwitted creatures. The creatures, by the way, have absolutely no personality and I couldn’t take them seriously as antagonists after a few temporary foilings from the family. The family members thankfully have a pretty good chemistry with each other, but it’s not enough to make me think that they shouldn’t get eaten as a family. The film relies on tiresome silent tension and cheap jump scares, the most effective of which is a fake-out. The real “Quiet Place” should be any theater showing this movie. Yes, you’re supposed to refrain from making noise during most movies shown in theaters, but you know what I mean.
“A Quiet Place” is rated PG-13 for terror and some bloody images. Its running time is 90 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.