glenn criddle | cynical celluloid | may 2018
It's an interesting, though not entirely original, premise for a film. Keep quiet, stay silent, do not make a sound or you will be picked off by a monster before your scream ends. This new horror film, ominously from the Platinum Dunes stable, is without a doubt one of the most suspenseful films I've watched in a long time and expertly manages to sustain that throughout almost all of the movie.
For a film with very little dialogue and such a simple premise it really sells the idea that should you so much as whimper after stepping on a nail then your troubles are only going to get worse. We have no explanation of what happened to lead to this situation, which is undoubtedly for the best, and our introduction to the family we are about to follow is all but in mime with the only communication being done mostly through body language and sign language. And there appears to be no escape from the mysterious and ubiquitous predators, they're everywhere: in the cities, in the country and they always seem to be within earshot. For the most part, the creatures are very much in the background, they pop up once in a while to remind us they're there, but largely they're the lurking threat, much like the zombies in George Romero's films. They serve to test the people in the film, to act as an ever-present threat that awaits the careless or the unwary and that's the perfect movie monster for me. I'm not as interested in the overt monster, the ones that have to be on the screen all the time; I like the ones that have us look towards the people in the film and have us wondering just how long it'll be until they make a misstep. That's what we have here. The discipline the characters have to exercise to stay alive is stressful as hell and it's an atmosphere that permeates into the audience as well as your popcorn suddenly seems astonishingly loud and you have to be strategic in when you take that last slurp of your drink. It's a film where the sound balance lurches from tiptoe quiet to “peel me off the ceiling" kind of loud, which, although a little obnoxious at times, is at least justified by the circumstance.
All this good stuff is shored up by some very committed performances across the board and considering line readings were hardly much use, the cast have to rely on everything their faces and bodies can supply in their stead. They are thankfully people we can care for, they're likable, or at least we can have sympathy with them, even Reagan who makes some astonishingly poor decisions, is an interesting part of the family dynamic instead of being an annoyance. It's a strange experience watching these near-silent performances and kudos must be given for the courage of the writers, director and actors for making this work and not get getting tired of it within the first half hour.
But ... (mild spoilers ahead)
If you follow my writing here at Frankly Green Bay you may have read my previous article, “5 Things Hurting Modern Cinema" If you did then you'll know that I put CG as the first on the list, which is something rather more prophetic than I knew when it came to “A Quiet Place." As solid as the film is I have to point out this films breaking failure: the digital monster effects. For the most part the monster is a blur, something that we don't get to see close up, until, that is, the last few minutes of the film. This is hardly a spoiler as you'd fully expect to have the face-to-face showdown for the finale, but what was a mild distraction in the early part of the film becomes a major source of disappointment in the closing moments. I can't describe quite how much of the atmosphere was instantly destroyed by seeing the over-engineered CG abomination with a face made almost entirely of flaps and teeth. It's like a hyperactive toddler was making the artistic decisions when it came to the monster and I wish, I dearly wish, that they had gone with at least a simpler design or even better, a practical effect. This, not the occasional plot contrivances, not the sequel bait, but the CG, thisruined the movie for me and I do mean it ruined it.
The horribly rendered, over-indulgent CG mess of a monster, trashed the atmosphere the film had worked so hard to generate and I should not have laughed at what should have been the climax of a uniformly tense story. I left the cinema bemused and not a little disappointed and all for the sake of the fact that CG allows you to do whatever you want when the limitations of practical effects would have likely made for a better visual presence and certainly would have forced a simpler and less ludicrous design. What we have is unfortunately like a mash-up of “Starship Troopers," “Alien" and “Predator" and after all the tension that had been built up through the film's run-time, I actually laughed, I laughed hard. All the work the film had done, all the tension it built, had suddenly been blown out the window like the xenomorph in “Alien 3."
This said, the rest of the film is wonderfully tense and works the idea of having to stay silent extremely effectively to the point that the audience at my screening were utterly silent too, a rare treat indeed. Despite my disappointment with the ending it has to be said the rest of the film is certainly worth giving a chance to. Hopefully you'll not be as put off as I was by the disappointing artistic decisions that were made to close what was a deeply involving and tense movie.
He's British so forgive the extra U's and the use of the letter S instead of Z. If there's one thing that typifies Glenn's writing it's the 'Video Nasties,' a long list of movies that offended all and sunder during the 1980s in the UK. It's those seemingly offensive fringes of cinema that informed his writing on cinema and the more political area of censorship with a more sympathetic approach to those films that push the limits of taste. But don't worry, he does talk about normal stuff too and isn't likely to go off on a horror movie fuelled rampage.