Logic Shusshed in ‘A Quiet Place’

April 18, 2018

A Quiet Place is a suspenseful thriller about parents Lee (John Krasinski) and Evelyn (Emily Blunt) who live with their children on a small farm in a land overrun by powerful, possibly extraterrestrial creatures that hunt based on sound. The family must keep very quiet as they eke out a living under constant threat of being killed should they be too loud.

As if this wasn't stressful enough, one of the children is soon horribly dispatched (not a spoiler, as it appears in previews), leaving eldest child Regan (Millicent Simmonds, deaf in real life) and the parents wracked with grief and guilt. A year later we find Regan acting out and Evelyn pregnant, approaching her due date to deliver an almost certainly monster-attracting crying baby that threatens them all. A handful of other survivors are seen in passing, but the film focuses on one specific family under threat.

It's an M. Night Shyamalan-type premise, and as an experiment in filmmaking the largely-quiet A Quiet Place offers a refreshing change of pace from most mainstream Hollywood films. I think of Robert Redford's 2013 single-actor, near-wordless film All is Lost, or Silent House (2011), a horror film that takes place in a single location and filmed in a (seemingly) single continuous shot.

The family communicates mostly in American Sign Language and mouthed half-whispers for most of the film, which allows star/co-writer/director Krasinski and the film's sound designer to play with volume as a narrative device. This is nothing new, of course; many films (including Wonder Woman) have sounds cut out for a specific character after an explosion, mimicking temporary deafness.

Conveying exposition in a film like this is a challenge, and Krasinski gets around this problem with a large dry erase board near Lee's desk that helpfully--or ham-handedly, depending on your view--explains their situation in bullet points: "Creatures: blind / attacks sound / armor." The problem is that we soon realize that these premises aren't actually true, or at least not entirely true. The monsters cannot be blind, because we see them navigate the world around them, step on and over objects, and so on. They may be attracted by sound, but they can clearly see--except when they can't (even inches away), at the arbitrary convenience of the plot.

Perhaps we're meant to assume that they echolocate and find their way around using sound, as bats (which are not actually blind) do. But this is never seen in the film, and at any rate that wouldn't address the issue, since echolocation reveals all solid objects, not just those which emit sounds.

The idea of creating a noisy environment to mask their sounds doesn't seem to have occurred to Lee and Evelyn; a few wind chimes in the trees around the farm would have done wonders for their safety--as would living near a waterfall. In an inexplicable twist at the end, there seems to be a public address loudspeaker system set up on the farm; and the fact that one of the creatures is dispatched with something as basic as a shotgun makes one wonder just how much of a fight the world's militaries put up against the invaders, as depicted in newspaper clippings by Lee's plot summary / dry erase board.

I don't mean to be pedantic, but the first rule of world-building (whether fantasy, science fiction, horror, or any other genre) is that you need to have logically internally consistent premises. If the audience is told, and the story proceeds, on a given premise (such as that creatures X are blind or that planet Y has no gravity), then the plot should stick to that premise so its audience can suspend disbelief. (I'm not just being cranky; many other critics have noted these and other plot holes as well.)

The acting is good all around, and the small scale of the film makes for compelling watching. A Quiet Place is effective at building tension, but then wastes much of that tension on horror-film cliché jump scares-false alarms accompanied by sudden loud sounds. A Quiet Place could have been a really interesting short film at thirty to forty minutes, but at an hour and a half it seems padded out as the parade of perils proceeds apace. The theme of babies and children being repeatedly threatened by horrifying monsters becomes both tiresome and unseemly. A Quiet Place gets points for effort, but the script needed a rewrite.