Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A Quiet Place: Never Let Up

(from left) Noah Jupe, Millicent Simmonds and John Krasinski in A Quiet Place.

In the wittily titled post-apocalyptic horror picture A Quiet Place, most of humankind has been wiped out by blind monsters, fitted out with terrifying incisors and highly developed ears, that prey on anything they can hear. (These imaginatively designed creatures are the brainchild of animator Alberto Martínez Arce.) The focus of the screenplay by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and director John Krasinski is the Abbott family, who have managed to survive by living a silent existence in their house at the edge of the woods and foraging there and in deserted stores during the day. They haven’t completely evaded the monsters: one killed the youngest Abbott child when he couldn’t resist trying out a battery-operated airplane he’d found in the Walmart toy department. Since then Lee (Krasinski), his wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt), their daughter Regan (played by the talented young deaf actress Millicent Simonds, who was Rose, the little girl in Wonderstruck) and their son Marcus (Noah Jupe) have managed to steer clear of them, complying with the complicated procedures and warning systems Lee, a technology expert (the film doesn’t identify his actual profession), has put in place, while he spends part of every day in the basement, trying to locate other survivors and working on a hearing device for his daughter. Regan is very smart and has begun to rebel against her parents’ dictates, which, of course, increases the already heightened menace. She also feels responsible for her younger brother’s death – she gave the airplane to him, not realizing he would pocket the batteries as well – and is sure that Lee blames her.

The first half of the movie, roughly forty-five minutes, is frighteningly effective. The chronology leaps from 89 days after the collapse of civilization – this is when little Beau Abbott (Cate Woodward) is killed – to a few months later and then about a year after that, at which point Evelyn is pregnant and coming close to term. The thought of her enduring childbirth without making a sound and then dealing with a crying baby is even scarier than the close calls the movie has shown us so far. The actors are all good, especially Krasinski, who rarely gets the credit he deserves for the work he’s done in movies like Leatherheads, Aloha and especially 13 Hours; his performance as Lee is taut yet sensitive.

But then the movie overplays its hand. In the second half Krasinski and his co-writers throw in more kinds of danger than a silent-movie serial. Evelyn’s water breaks when she’s alone in the house, she steps on a long nail stuck in the middle of the basement staircase (implausibly, since she saw it there earlier and could have taken action, if not to remove it then certainly to flag it), one of the monsters appears while she’s in labor and the basement floods. There’s even a sequence where both kids get caught in a grain elevator. Worse, the movie has a maudlin streak. Krasinski knows how to shoot and shape a shiver-inducing episode (the editor is Charlotte Bruus Christensen) and how to work with actors, but whenever he has to deal with the family’s grief over the loss of their youngest member, his sentimentality is suffocating. There’s a sacrificial scene that makes you want to throw something at the screen.

Watching A Quiet Place, I went from admiring engagement to exhausted irritation. The second half is relentless, and after a while all the stockpiled perils stopped being enjoyable – I didn’t want to watch one more scene in which it looked as if the kids were doomed. (I did enjoy the twist at the end.) Admittedly my tolerance for movies in which the threats to human existence are ratcheted higher with every half-hour has worn down; I don’t think I need to see another Avengers sequel. Audiences seem to have a good time at this sort of thing, but by the hour mark I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there.

– Steve Vineberg is Distinguished Professor of the Arts and Humanities at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he teaches theatre and film. He also writes for The Threepenny Review and is the author of three books: Method Actors: Three Generations of an American Acting StyleNo Surprises, Please: Movies in the Reagan Decade; and High Comedy in American Movies.

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