Cinema Dispatch: A Quiet Place

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A Quiet Place and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures

Directed by John Krasinski

We had quite a few good horror films last year like IT, Happy Death Day, and ESPECIALLY Get Out, but pickings have been a bit slim in the first third of 2018 with the only wide releases going to the fourth Insidious movie and the rather underwhelming Annihilation if you’d even want to count that.  THANK GOODNESS that Platinum Dunes has stepped up to the plate because they’ve ALWAYS made good movies, am I right!?  Okay, so the studio has a pretty shaky track record with some pretty awful remakes being their staple up until 2010, but they have gotten a bit better at picking movies what with The Purge series being under their banner and I even liked that Friday the 13th film they did, though I’m certainly in the minority on that one.  This movie at least has been getting some positive buzz despite what I feel what I thought were rather underwhelming trailers, so maybe the steady improvement of Platinum Dunes productions will continue unabated!  I mean as long as we forget about those Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie… and the first Ouija movie.  ANYWAY, does this latest thriller with a unique premise manage to be all it’s cracked up to be, or will the silence in the theater be less due to enraptured awe and more due to straight up boredom?  Let’s find out!!

We begin this story in the near future where it seems that society has crumbled and the few remaining survivors are eking out a rather mundane existence as they try to avoid being hunted down by whatever it was that nearly wiped us all out.  What is hunting them exactly?  I don’t know, some sort of Silent Hill looking dudes with sharp claws that LOVE to slice and dice people whenever they can find them.  The key to their success however turns out to be some EXCELLENT hearing skills, so in order to survive in this world you need to stay QUIET!  At least the Abbott family has managed to make this new way of life work for them as Momma and Poppa (Emily Blunt and John Krasinski) have worked tirelessly to set up rules and precautions to protect their children and to keep their mouths shut!  Sure, they lost ONE kid, but they’ve still got two left who know not to make even the SMALLEST of sounds if they want to survive, and there’s even another kid on the way which SEEMS like a bad idea considering how hard it is to reasonably explain to a baby that they’re crying is not very helpful at the moment, but I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get there!  Anyway, the eldest kid Regan (Millicent Simmonds) is having trouble dealing with the death of her little brother which she blames herself for and on top of that is deaf herself which makes it easier for her to communicate without sound but means that things might be a bit more dangerous if she can’t hear any approaching threats.  At least she’s better equipped to handle what’s going on than her brother Marcus (Noah Jupe) who’s REALLY traumatized by everything that’s happened since the monsters came to town and spends most of his time being terrified about everything around him; not the MOST impracticable of positions to take, but it does cause some friction between him and his dad when he has trouble letting go of his fears to focus on the basic survival tasks at hand.  So with one kid feeling guilty, another one scared of his own shadow, and a third one threatening to come out of their mother in the very near future, things may not be sustainable for that much longer no matter how much Super Dad tries to keep things firmly within his grasp.  Can this family survive this terrifying threat for as long as it takes for someone to figure out how to destroy these creatures once and for all?  Will they find a way to successfully have this baby and raise it without attracting the attention of the creatures that have the super strong hearing and extremely deadly claws?  Seriously, how have you guys survived THIS long if knocking something over is enough to get these creatures to come a knocking!?

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There’s always at least one.  Every year a movie will come out that everyone else has nothing but praise for and while I’m sitting here with my arms crossed and my lower lip pouted wondering what the heck everyone else sees in it.  Seriously, I thought I had already filled my yearly quota on obnoxious contrarianism by being extremely nonplussed by Annihilation, but I guess I’m destined to be a consistent sourpuss instead of just an occasional one.  There are good aspects to this movie, and it doesn’t fill me with hate and misery like It Comes at Night and Mother did last year, but it’s also one of the most clichéd and underwhelming entries in a genre that I’ve never had much love for in the first place.  If you’ve seen any post-apocalyptic survival movie (especially ones that take themselves WAY too seriously), then you’ve seen almost everything this film has to offer which may be enough for a lot of people but all it did for me was be annoying and predictable.  Say what you will about the Resident Evil movies, at least they had a spark of life and originality to them!

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“…”

Now before I tear into this movie proper, let’s at least take a step back and acknowledge the places that this DOES indeed work.  The movie does a good job of using sound (and the lack thereof) to build up tension in its more dire scenes, and I’m glad that a mainstream Hollywood movie was made primarily using American Sign Language for characters to communicate in and subtitles for the audience to understand it.  If you’ve seen those terrible devices some theaters use to give hard of hearing and deaf movie goers subtitles, you’ll probably appreciate why normalizing on-screen subtitles is a good thing.  I also thought that the second half, while still rather dull, had enough sporadic action beats and clever ideas to keep things at least partially engaging which is more than I can say about the first part of this movie.  It’s not a bad premise and it has its heart in the right place, but this feels like a production from an untested director which John Krasinski pretty much is; ESPECIALLY in this genre.  Maybe someone with more experience behind the camera or a writer with more on their mind than the central gimmick (specifically the lack of sound and the way they justify it; not the fact that they use ASL and have a deaf character) could have brought something more to the table, and while what they did make isn’t bad, it’s still not even close to my cup of tea.

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With any sort of apocalypse movie you’re gonna have questions about how we ended up at this point where this is the new status quo, and a good movie will either answer these questions or create a scenario that is fascinating or entertaining enough (or both *cough* Fury Road *cough*) that the questions become moot.  This film does neither and every aspect of the world, their lives, and even the day to day precautions they take, are kept frustratingly at arm’s length.  Really basic questions of how we even got to this point are never answered and contradictions in the lore are left all over the place.  The monsters that are menacing this family don’t hold up to the slightest bit of scrutiny and anyone who looked at these things for five minutes could have easily uncovered their major weakness, yet society has seemingly collapsed due to what are essentially wild animals roaming the streets.  And look, ALL apocalypse stories are based on some degree of fantasy where the world falls to ruin in JUST The right way so that humanity hasn’t been totally wiped out yet everything else around it (stuff that’ll certainly be here longer than we are and are essential to our day to day lives) is completely gone or severely limited, but this movie doesn’t even feel like it’s TRYING to sell us on its premise!  The amount of noise required to attract one of these monsters that can show up anywhere in the blink of an eye (like they’re a bunch of slasher villains; something I would have been FOR if the movie had any interest in BEING that) is never consistent from scene to scene.  I mean I’m no expert on sound, but if a monster a MILE away can hear a lamp break inside of a house (one that has walls and everything), then there’s literally no way they could live their day to day lives even IF they were intentionally trying to be quiet.  It doesn’t take a scientist to know that THE WIND would easily be drowning out whatever noise the humans are making INSIDE OF THEIR OWN HOME unless they were playing Slayer at full volume or firing off guns for shits and giggles.  How do they even have a farm if they can make THAT little noise?  Wouldn’t ripping an ear of corn off of a stalk (OUTSIDE NO LESS!) cause a much louder noise than say, a quiet conversation inside the house?  Heck, the movie confirms that they DO indeed have electricity (albeit to a limited capacity), but how could they have a generator running without the monsters losing their damn minds and slashing it to pieces?  I don’t want to come off as pedantic with these criticisms as I’m sure most people won’t be questioning how they keep the lights on when the characters are facing down a monster that will strike them dead at the slightest peep, but the movie’s tone is not consistent with the premise that it sets up for itself which I feel is a genuine problem.  It would have been more believable if the reason for them to be silent was some sort of magic spell or demonic curse because a threat that is much more ephemeral would have been a lot easier to keep consistent.  It’s just too LITERAL here with only about half a dozen monsters about five feet tall with CLEAR weak points being the ONLY threat our heroes have to face, and I feel the movie does a poor job of making them seem the least bit credible.

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But again, a lot of people aren’t gonna have a problem with that, so let’s talk about the characters themselves which could have helped me look past the weakness in the premise had they been engaging on any level.  I just could not care even a little bit about any of these people who come right out of the Apocalypse Handbook.  You’ve got Dad Beard who’s really smart and tough but also sweet, Scaredy Kid who has to grow up a lot faster than he would if they DIDN’T have blood thirsty monsters hunting them down, and The Mother who… I guess loves her family a whole bunch.  I just couldn’t engage with anything that was happening on screen between the characters because nothing felt the least bit original.  Mom and Dad dance to a song on an iPod to remember what life was like BEFORE the apocalypse?  Okay, but I’ve seen this kind of thing before and it wasn’t even a song that stood out in any significant way.  There aren’t any lines (both spoken and conveyed through ASL) that stuck with me on any level and it felt like it was coming straight out of the BIG BOOK OF DRAMATIC CLICHÉS instead of written by someone with a firm grasp on these characters beyond their existence as archetypes.  The only one who stood out was Millicent Simmonds who IS in fact a deaf actor and does a really solid job conveying a lot of emotions through subtle fascial expressions and the actions she takes throughout the film.  Other than her though, I literally couldn’t tell you anything about these characters outside of their existence as archetypes.  Everything in this is PURELY functional which I guess makes sense to a certain extent when living under such strict conditions, but what that does is make for VERY boring characters to watch on screen.  There is one moment that comes to mind that they could have done SO much more with which I sadly can’t spoil here, but what it DID remind me of was Jeremy Rener’s last moments at the end of The Town.  When faced with impending doom, he took one last sip of soda before rushing outnumbered against the cops.  Something SMALL like that makes a world of difference in letting us know who this character is and making them relatable to the audience.  There needed to be more moments like that for me to connect with any of these characters outside of Millicent Simmonds, but it just wasn’t there in the script.

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“…”

Look, I’m just never gonna find this genre compelling the same way that some critics will never enjoy formulaic slasher films or the massive influx of super hero films.  Can I recognize that this is a GOOD film in its genre even if I’m not a fan of it?  I GUESS so, but it still feels really bare bones to be getting as praise as it’s received so far, and the rather loose adherence to its own premise seems like the kind of thing that more people would notice, but that’s just me and I’m just one dude sitting in a theater.  I wouldn’t really recommend this for the reasons that I hope are now abundantly clear, but I’ve been in the minority on films like this before and it’s always hard for movies like this to get that much praise out of me in the first place.  Maybe wait for a home release or a matinee screening if you think this is in your wheelhouse, but I found myself wanting to take a nap.  Hopefully I wouldn’t snore though as I’m pretty sure that would have been enough to seal my fate in THIS ridiculous movie!

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