A Quiet Place and the sounds of silence: How absence of noise is the main character in John Krasinski's film
The vast potential of silence does the trick in A Quiet Place — one of the most terrifying films in recent times for its execution of a unique brand of horror.
As I type this, John Krasinski's A Quiet Place has become the second-highest grossing Hollywood film globally (after Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One), and has topped the North American box office in its opening weekend.
American media websites are raving about the huge opening that the film has gathered. The horror-thriller dystopian film brings together real-life couple Emily Blunt and John Krasinski for the first time (yes that guy from The Office, and the spunky actress from Devil Wears Prada and Sicario). A Quiet Place was made at a modest budget of $ 17 million and has opened to $ 50 million.
However, what has caught social media's complete attention (including Krasinski himself) is a tweet from the master of horror, Stephen King.
A QUIET PLACE is an extraordinary piece of work. Terrific acting, but the main thing is the SILENCE, and how it makes the camera's eye open wide in a way few movies manage.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) April 6, 2018
This brings me to the main character in A Quiet Place: Silence.
Here's a horror film that doesn't rely on elevating background score or jump scares to frighten its audiences. The vast potential of silence does the trick — the idea that you can only communicate through visuals, and not sounds, in a universe where blind, alien-like monsters will hunt you down if you make one peep, is probably one of the most terrifying concepts in recent times. The horror of their situation can be seen so much more clearly on the faces of John Krasinski and Emily Blunt (with the absence of sound); they play helpless parents to three children who are just about surviving (through strategic planning and sign language).
Krasinski revealed, in an interview with Variety, that he watched films like Get Out, The Babadook to prepare for his directorial debut — and it shows. A Quiet Place is a unique film: it has elements of horror, thriller unlike any other in recent times, and yet has a universal message (parental love and protection takes precedence in the face of any horror). Krasinski says to Variety, "the truth is, I never saw it as a horror movie. When I got the script, it was scary. The thing I bonded to most in the original draft was this idea of family".
Films like the above mentioned (and some others that he watched, including Jaws, and Alien) don't tackle horror with the regular tropes we are used to as audiences. The fear germinates less from the supernatural being, or blood and gore, and more from the unpredictably potent situation. It is also the reason why you don't miss the absence of details like how the family got to where they are, who these aliens are and what happened to fellow humans.
The whats, wheres, and whys take a backseat in A Quiet Place. The absence of sound hits you hard. So much effort has gone into making the world believable (only to alleviate the sense of horror).
For one, the actor who plays Reagan, Millicent Simmonds, is actually deaf in real life (as is her character in the film). Sound editors Ethan Van Der Ryn and Erik Aadahl, used what they call "sound envelops" through the film to allow audiences to experience what a particular character goes through. At several points, the audio of the film shifts from tense prickles of barely-there sound to complete radio silence, to indicate how the situation would seem to Reagan.
In possibly one of the most electrifying scenes of the film, Reagan stands with her back to the alien-creature, unaware of his presence. The scenes keeps cutting from radio silence to a gnawing/snarling voice indicating danger. She has a fearful expression on her face, as she scopes the area around her for potential danger. I found it hard to breath while watching this, and was on the verge of screaming, "look behind you!" (much to the disdain of fellow audience members).
Elaborating further on this, Krasinski said, to LA Times, that it was non-negotiable for him to cast Simmonds in the role. This is another example of his commitment to making A Quiet Place an authentic experience for the senses. Another example is a tiny scene, which most viewers would have possibly missed amid the larger action in the film. As the family crosses a grocery store, you can see that all the food has been taken from the shelves — except bags of chips, possibly because they make the most noise while opening, as a reddit thread pointed out.
Innovations and creativity apart, A Quiet Place gives you the relief for all the silent stress it puts you through — and those are the winning moments of the film. In one particularly standout scene, Emily Blunt's character, who is pregnant, has to find a way to give birth to her child, in complete silence. Imagine having to go through labour pains and multiple contractions without making a sound. Her silent and sporadic breaths between all the pain she was going through, was all the background score I needed. You will find yourself constantly thinking "Oh no, what now?" or "What if this happened next" through the film. I believe this is because the audiography of the film doesn't spoon-feed you on what to feel.
“We live in a world now where you see all these movies, like Marvel movies, and there’s so much sound going on, so many explosions,” Krasinski said in another interview, to New York Times. “I love those movies, but there’s something about all that noise that assaults you, in a way. We thought, what if you pulled it all back? Would that make it feel just as disconcerting and just as uncomfortable and tense?”
Kransinski is right. A Quiet Place will make you feel uncomfortable and tense like never before. This is a claustrophobic tension; the realisation that there's no way out of this horror, that death is around the corner and yet you find comfort in the small sprinkles of hope thrown in every now and then. These moments of hope are best experienced, in silence, on the big screen. Take your imagination with you.
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