Flimsy Script Overshadows Capable Direction In "A Quiet Place"

Warning: moderate “A Quiet Place” spoilers below.

Straddling the line between elegance and stupidity for much of its running time, John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place” finally comes down on the side of folly. The inanities it requires of its characters are pushing it even for a monster movie, ultimately borne out by a “no duh” revelation concerning a character’s scribble-filled white board which the camera pans over with amusing reverence.

More on the white board in a moment.

The character is Lee Abbott, a devoted family man facing down a world rampaged by bloodthirsty beasts with hypersensitive hearing. Make a noise above thirty decibels or so and you’re dead meat. Krasinski, who co-wrote and directed the film, stars as Lee, lending the character the same genial steadfastness he brought to the role of Jim on NBC’s “The Office.” There it was vital to the perilous equilibrium of paper company Dunder Mifflin. Here it’s a matter of life and death.

Lee is an archetype of patriarchal authority, his life devoted to preventing his wife Evelyn (Krasinski’s real-life spouse Emily Blunt) and their children from meeting grisly ends. As the family anticipates the arrival of a new baby, our bearded, stoic protagonist goes to every length imaginable to secure their rural compound. Never mind the unfathomability of bringing new life into this reality; the film doesn’t address it.

The Abbott’s eldest child Regan (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf; the family mostly communicates in American Sign Language. This is a double-edged sword when it comes to dealing with the aforementioned monsters; it also informs much of the pic’s sparse sound design. The occasional shot from Regan’s point of view is utterly silent, silences that scream out louder than any jump scare sound effect might. This is a boon to the scenes where the creatures lurk in either foreground or background. They are uniformly rattling- and uniformly Spielbergian.

Krasinski crafts some sequences of indelible suspense – the best of which features a very pregnant Evelyn cowering in a bathtub – none of which really belong to him. His film ends up even more indebted to Spielberg than J.J. Abrams’ famously imitative “Super 8,” essentially stretching the iconic “Jurassic Park” Velociraptors in the kitchen scene to feature length. There’s even a sequence in a silo that evokes the equally recognizable T-Rex vs. Ford Explorer attack – engaging in the moment, utterly pedestrian in comparison to the classic it apes.

Derivations aside, Lee and his family are the pic’s biggest liabilities. They’re 20 lb. stock cut out characters, their dearth of dialogue preventing us from getting to know them in the slightest. The screenplay’s attempt to make them every family makes them no family at all, rejecting the tried and true narrative notion that relatability comes through specificity. The rejection proves fatal. Our only investment in Lee and his family is in the innate likability of Krasinski and Blunt and in how cruelly the film puts small children in mortal danger time and again. It might as well be called “Children In Peril: The Movie.”

To his credit, Krasinski has made a fairly handsome movie – an occasionally startling, borderline arty mainstream horror film. But it’s so bereft of both charisma and substance, so committed to a dubious idealization of survivalism that the “instant classic” hoopla surrounding its release might be a marker on its grave. Its final ten minutes look like the shower of dirt on top.

“WHAT IS WEAKNESS” Lee’s white board asks in regards to the vicious creatures with super hearing. Sound, it turns out. Who would’ve thought?

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Mediocre)

Release Date: April 6, 2018
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: John Krasinski
Screenwriters: John Krasinski, Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Starring: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe, Millicent Simmonds
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for terror and some bloody images)