Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2018 2:15 pm 
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The silence

Imagine a post-apocalyptic monster movie where the critters cannot see or feel, only detect their prey by sound. This is a good way to make an audience pay attention, raptly leaning forward to listen. And savor the silence. Which is only near-silence, of course, because the actors are going around, touching things. Gathering, tiptoeing. What we listen for is a mistake, a snapped twig, a dropped object, a child's moment of forgetfulness.

The focus is exclusively on the struggle to survive of a single American family. They can make no noise, not even speak, not a whisper. We pick up the situation gradually, from abandoned newspapers, dates (day 400-something), signs and notes in the father's workshop. There's almost nobody else around. This is good, that there's not an elaborate global story or other characters, the better to focus on the intimacy of this one, sweet, courageous family. One of the two children is deaf, so the entire family knows how to communicate by sign language. Only a few faint whispers of words are heard. Subtitles tell us what's being said and we learn some more, not too much but plenty nonetheless.

There will be some music and a whole symphony of ambient sound design in time, of course. But the unique music of A Quiet Place is the sound of its silence. knowing a tiny clatter or crack could be mortal danger, we listen. In that key first twenty minutes our ears may still be ringing from the trailers of summer blockbusters to come. But for now, the silence is deep and lush. And full of false comfort: this family is close and loving, like well-coordinated campers, but the air they breathe is full of dread.

Somehow the right things came together to achieve unspoiled goodness, to make John Krasinski's A Quiet Place, which he directs from the script by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck and costars in with his wife Emily Blount as the couple, Evelyn and Lee, and young Noah Jupe as son Marcus and Millicent Simmonds (who is deaf) as their daughter Regan. What authentic warmth and intimacy there is here, enhanced by the silence!

Woods and Beck came up with this neat, simple idea, and Krasinski, who did a rewrite of the script, was lucky enough to get permission to make a stand-alone film and not an offshoot of some franchise (it might have become a Cloverfield episode). They were not forced to tart up their simple, arresting idea and these excellent actors were simply free to give maximum value to their extreme situations. Lee's desire to teach young Lee to be a man in the wild, fishing within the tricky sonar conditions they deal with, and Evelyn's special situation is enough to keep us, silent, on the edge of our seats.

This is a situation that beautifully dramatizes omnipresent danger. The creatures aren't visible till they attack. When the story begins, the four Abbots are raiding what's left of a grocery store. Its condition is enough to show us the world has been ravaged, but not much more. We pick up the situation from the way they're sneaking around barefoot. We also get that the deaf one, the sister, who's older, is obstreperous. Her insistence on letting her little brother have a toy rocket brings on serious danger. They go home, and have a nice dinner, using big leaves as platters. Plates would clatter, you see.

The action is as simple as coming home and going out. As the danger seems to be spreading and closing in, I was reminded of the late George Romero's cult film Night of the Living Dead. This movie is much more wholesome and dramatically subtle than that. But the unique feature of A Quiet Place is its blend of gentle, delicate emotions and the raw screech of a creature feature. It's a memorable combination.

Miraculously for a wide-release genre picture, this movie is also deliciously short, ending, with
an ironic hint, at ninety minutes, without having strewn the screen with corpses or blown up a lot of stuff. As creature features go, this is almost an art film, modest in its means, save for the digital monsters. In fact the human side of the story is done with so much conviction and taste, that when one of the critters finally starts to dance and writhe all over the screen toward the end, it's a little laughable.

A Quiet Place, 90 mins., debuted at SxSW 9 Mar. 2018. Theatrical release 6 Apr. Shot in 35 days, it cost $17 for production and has made $207 million worldwide in 18 days of release. A critical and popular success, Metacritic rating 82%.


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