It’s for the Kids

*SPOILERS*

Gimmicks in horror movies are a dime-a-dozen. The sheer number of found footage films intending to recreate the success of The Blair Witch Project should be enough evidence of that. Saw and Final Destination have spawned a collective ten sequels based on their original stratagem. Even classic franchises have fallen victim to this trend. “Camp Crystal Lake isn’t cutting it anymore? Let’s put Jason in space. Wait, you mean that didn’t work? Okay, get Freddy in here.” The incessant need for creativity in the horror genre often reeks of desperation, so it’s natural to get nervous when new one-trick ponies come around.

That said, A Quiet Place is not your average pony. Sure, it’s all about being silent (there are maybe fifteen lines of dialogue in the whole movie), but there’s more to it than that. The film’s creative team is your first clue. Based on a story by the filmmaking duo of Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, the movie is also heavily influenced by actor, writer, and first-time director John Krasinski. The screenplay itself is well balanced between examining its post-apocalyptic world and the inner workings of its main characters. But Krasinski, who described this film as a love letter to his family in promotional interviews, has his fingerprints all over it as he molds a horror movie with the purpose of making you cry as many times as you scare.

The film’s direction is surprisingly masterful for the product of a first-timer. Echoing the attention to detail and character building that Jordan Peele built into his 2017 film debut, A Quiet Place doesn’t waste a single second of its 95 minute runtime. It sets up almost all of its major plot points well before they happen, simultaneously grounding everything into a reasonable reality. Examples include the nail that the laundry bag pulls up on the stairs, the waterfall scene explaining the logic of launching the fireworks, and the use of a cochlear implant to defeat a monster. Those are the obvious ones, but smaller details like the brief appearance of the oxygen tank, the bloody footprints left by the wife, and the boy playing with the truck’s controls all come back to influence the plot with subtle effectiveness.

Going back to the comparison with Get Out, John Krasinski’s film has two major legs up. One is that it is much more of a genre film, using tension and jump scares with precision. The other is the emotional pull of the characters in A Quiet Place. Take the first scenes of each movie. Instead of building the mystery of the antagonists, the way that Peele does with his “Run, Rabbit, Run” kidnapping, Krasinski chooses to set up the emotional arc for each character by killing the youngest member of the family. The effect is that, as an audience, we want to see the main characters live more than we want to see the villains die.

This point gets driven home late in the film, right around the time that the father sacrifices himself. The emotional arc of the relationship between him and his daughter is the backbone of this film, and it is redeemed beautifully in this scene and the final battle. For a genre horror movie with a gimmick, I really didn’t expect to feel as strongly as I did for its characters. In that, I consider this film to have pulled off a minor miracle. Then again, maybe I’m just getting soft.

In all, John Krasinksi wrote a love letter to his family and that letter definitely got delivered. This film scares, intrigues and conjures emotion in equal measures. The story is tight, the character performances are top notch and the sound design makes good on the gimmick that its premise promises. Now, if only all horror movies could actually make me feel for its protagonists. That’s a ruse I would actually like to see catch on.

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