Saturday, October 20, 2018

Film Review: A Quiet Place

Sexuality/Nudity No Objection
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy No Objection

George Lucas once said that you should be able to watch a good movie with a sound off and still be able to follow the story.  That is because movies are a primarily visual medium.  Director and star John Krasinski has followed this principle to make A Quiet Place the best directed movie I have seen this year.

The movie begins after some kind of alien invasion.  We skip all of the epic carnage and are living in the ruins of a fallen world.  In a small town in the country, we have the father (Krasinski), the mother (Emily Blunt), deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), frightened son Marcus (Noah Jupe), and oblivious young child Beau (Cade Woodward).  The monsters who destroyed the world hunt by sound.  The survivors can move about freely throughout the land, but must do so quietly.  The most moderate noise level will call up the monsters who will devour you into pieces.

This premise could have been simple horror-movie fare.  And I resisted seeing this movie for a while because of my general aversion to the horror genre.  But this movie is so much more.  Krasinski could have made a simple fright-fest scary film.  Instead, he wanted to say something that was deeply thematic.  I often cringe when directors try to insert themes into genre films.  But Krasinski did it the right way.  His first and foremost aim was to tell an incredibly compelling and tense story.  And in doing so, he laid plain some universal and primal insights into the human condition.

Stories need to be about something.  I don't mean the plot, which is what happens in a story.  A good story will be able to touch on those mythic truths that we all hold in our collective psyche.  At root, this movie is about what it means to be a family.

The family in our movie is wounded.  They are broken not only by the apocalypse they are in, but also because of horrible tragedy that shatters their dynamic.  The father and his daughter have an emotional rift.  The son is filled with panic and terror.  The mother is carrying the burden of worry not only for her family, but for her unborn child that is coming into this silent world.  And through it all there is a bond that goes beyond reason and emotion and sentiment.  It is an invisible knot drawing them all together.

The dynamic between mothers and fathers was so well done in this movie that it is difficult to put into words.  In fact, putting it into words is always going to be a problem, because the truths about who we are are so deep.  But Krasinski follows the story-telling maxim "Show, don't tell."  We don't need characters philosophizing about the role of family dynamics.  Instead the characters act them out.

The closest imagery I could get to explain how Krasinski portrays the parents is this: fathers are swords and mothers are shields.  The father's job is to go out and provide for the family and to attack those who would do them harm.  His job is to extend outward into the world and help his children grow to do the same.  The mother is the shield.  She is there to protect the children from all harm.  She absorbs the pain and suffering to cover for the children's safety.  These roles are not simple and neat categories.  Swords can be used to defend and parry.  Shields can be used to smash and destroy.  But Krasinski presents a full picture of the complementarity that exists in God's design for the human family, whether he intended to or not.  Watching the father go out into harm's way time and again to save his family was something that captured the masculine ideal.  And watching the mother go into labor and endure all of her pain in silence so as to protect her child being born epitomized the strength of the feminine.  Krasinski along with screenwriters Bryan Woods and Scott Beck managed to write a tight narrative with an incredible amount of resonance.

We see this in his portrayal of the children.  Children want to grow up but they want to be protected.  But you can't do both.  Every step into the world is a step into danger.  There is constant confusion and frustration between them and the parents.  But there is also love.  There is a love that is portrayed that goes beyond words.

To make the movie even better, the performances are outstanding.  Having to rely almost exclusively on body language, the actors must express full characters without words.  And they more than deliver.  This may be Krasinski's best performance.  He is iconic in his role of Jim Halpert from The Office.  But not once did I see him as his television persona.  Emily Blunt should win an Oscar for her role.  I have rarely seen the depth of intensity as I saw in the birth scene.  I felt her terror and her pain.  Simmonds also stands out.  The deaf actress is given a full range of emotions to play and demonstrates a maturity beyond her years.  And Jupe gives us the believable performance of the person most terrified by the horror.

It is hard for me to believe that this is Krasinski's first feature.  He handles the camera with skill and experience.  He juxtaposes the idyllic landscapes with the monstrous situations perfectly.  He uses some wonderful subtlety, but he is not afraid to telegraph his punches, as he does in the scene with the nail in the floor.  Some first-time directors try to go overboard in genre-breaking artsyness.  Krasinski may be reaching for greater heights, but he never forgets that his main job to tell a good, scary story.  And while I have focused on the visuals, the sound design is outstanding.  Because sound is used sparingly, every sound matters and carries with it immense weight.

The only thing that holds the movie back are the monsters themselves.  When we only get subtle glimpses, the creatures are awesomely horrible.  But the more we see of them, the less scary they become.  Also, you can see the smallness of the budget reflected in those special effects.  If they had relied more on shape and motion like the first to Alien movies, then it would have had a greater effect.

Nevertheless, this is really a great movie.  Even if you are not into horror movies, do you yourself a favor and see A Quiet Place.

image by Yasir72.multan

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