A Quiet Place succeeds where many movies of its kind have failed, because it knows that suspense can rely on much more than just the big monster reveal.
Directed by John Krasinski and starring him and his wife Emily Blunt, A Quiet Place has been a profound success with both audiences and critics, because it’s a daring movie that wasn’t afraid to try something completely new that, though definitely scary and action-packed, managed to have a unique balance of suspense and heart — something very difficult to achieve in thrillers.
Spoilers for A Quiet Place follow.
(Ironically, it’s incredibly difficult to find any high-res pictures of the creatures online at the moment, which is why you won’t find any here.)
While no movie has played with sound and silence the way this one has, A Quiet Place does have peers in the genre. Many people have pointed out its similarities to Signs, for example: M. Night Shyamalan’s alien-invasion thriller, which has many similar elements to A Quiet Place — a family trapped in a rural home, surrounded by a mysterious, deadly race, which ultimately discovers the one thing that can defeat the creatures.
But Signs — and many other movies of its kind, though perhaps not so notoriously — failed when it came to keeping the height of the suspense throughout the entire film. The suspense fizzled out quickly once the audience was able to see the monsters, which left one feeling like the entire point of the movie obsolete.
When monsters are at the center of the plot, they absolutely must inspire consistent fear, even more so at the climax of the film. If the audience is unimpressed, grows bored, or cannot suspend disbelief about their existence, then the movie has failed. So how did a movie like A Quiet Place, which relies so heavily on its monsters, manage to keep us engaged throughout the entire film?
Well, maybe it was because it didn’t really rely on them as much as it seems.
Hidden under the silent screaming, persecution, and giant clicking echo-locating monsters, the heart of A Quiet Place is actually the story of the Abbott family, and the stakes are much more complex than just survival: we’re also worried about Regan’s guilt-fueled belief that her father no longer loves her, Evelyn and Lee’s commitment to never let another child of theirs get hurt, and of course… what kind of future can a newborn baby have when it isn’t even able to cry safely?
For a film with little to no spoken dialogue, it’s amazing that A Quiet Place is able to convey so many different sub-themes at once under the underlying theme of family, while at the same time keeping a truly heart-stopping combination of horror and action throughout the film that feels fresh and new, and therefore absolutely terrifying. (But of course, maybe it isn’t really that amazing — maybe it was just our own ableism that kept us from branching out movies in ASL.)
It’s the film’s decision to keep the audience’s interest firmly rooted on the family themes of the story that keeps A Quiet Place from failing where Signs did. Instead of building up to the monster slowly over the course of the entire film — something that worked for Signs, all up until the moment of reveal — A Quiet Place gives us our first glimpse of the creatures in the very first few scenes of the film.
And then it commits to many, many other appearances with increasing levels of detail, leaving the suspense not to the appearance of the monster, but rather the consequences of its appearance — will Regan never learn that her father loves her? Will the baby cry at the wrong moment? Will the parents fail to protect their children?
It’s incredibly important that A Quiet Place keep the emotional core somewhere other than in the monsters, because of how quickly CGI can appear dated. In the case of Signs, the monster reveal was off-putting then and now looks almost comical, because of how far we’ve come with CGI in the past 16 years.
Also important to keep in mind is that what makes a monster scary changes all the time. With monsters like the Demogorgon and Slenderman occupying popular culture’s thoughts, our monsters have moved away from giant animals or bug infestations or ghosts, and instead become long-limbed faceless creatures with slimy extremities that open up Venus-Flytrap-style. But while that successfully terrifies us today, it’s hard to say what will seem frightening 20 years from now.
To become a horror classic that still scares generations to come, A Quiet Place had to accept that someday, the monsters won’t be quite as scary as they are today. And that’s okay: what horror movies often fail to realize is that, scarier than a man trying to chop you up in little pieces, or a monster that can squash you in a heartbeat, is the failure to keep your family safe and let them know that you loved them.
That’s a much more universal fear, and one that will keep humans scared for all time. And it’s that fear that makes A Quiet Place such an excellent movie.