The story is set in the near future. Something happened. The streets are abandoned, everything is left behind. We see one family – mom, dad and three kids – going through a store in search of supplies. They are as quiet as possible, carefully picking up what they need and using sign laguage to communicate with each other. Outside they walk in line with bare feet on trails of white sand, going back home before it is dark.
A sound occurs, instant terror on their faces and we soon learn why. Out of nowhere a dinosaur-style monster comes running, hunting the sound.
We now know that the family has to live in silence to be safe, but there are complicating factors. Their daughter is deaf, so she can’t hear if she makes a sound. Then, the mother is pregnant. How will the family manage a childbirth and a baby?
The element of sound works well in A Quiet Place. The safe sounds nature brings: the wind, water. The complete absence of sound when the camera is with the deaf daughter. The tension the audience feels when one hears or expects a sound. Plus, horror is a genre of screaming. The protagonists scream. The audience screams. Now, all are silent. We only listen.
Horror should be scary, and it needs to be scary in a specific way. The monsters in horror have to defy our (cultural, scientific) categories. In other words, they are impossible, they cannot be. For example: a horror monster can be alive and dead (zombies, ghosts), inanimate and animate (hunted house, machines with a mind of their own), animal and human (werewolves). Monsters breach categories and that is dangerous and creepy. As a genre horror started after the Enlightenment. The scientific categories the Enlightenment started to define, made it possible for storytellers to mix and play with these categories.
Stephen King (who loves A Quiet Place) states that horror is a Republican genre par excellence: the monster – ‘the other’ – is bad and has to be understood and defeated. In horror the focus is on the monster. This is not quite the case in A Quiet Place. Although the father works on some scheme (see picture below) to figure out a way to defeat the creatures, our focus is not on them. The monsters are not so interesting: somehow they arrived, they are lethal and they can hear well. Within the story world it all makes sense: they don’t defy any categories.
Some have labeled A Quiet Place as ‘intellectual horror’. I disagree. While there are definitely horror like elements (jump scares, some disgusting imagery, trying to survive monsters) everything still fits within our cultural categories. It is not challenging in that regard. This makes me hesitant to call it horror at all. I suspect they categorize it as intellectual horror precisely because it is not primarily about impossible monsters but about something real. A family.
And that is true, the focus is on the family. The picture above illustrates this: the board with some extremely basic observations about the monsters is in the background, the parents are in the foreground. Director Krasinski says about this movie that ‘for me, it is all about parenthood’. Of course, parenthood is a category with strong connotations. Is the movie an allegory of the safety of family love and the possible horrors of the outside world? Or maybe the suffocation of parental love within the nuclear family?
But I’ll have to be honest, while the sound premisse is a good find and while many people like it, A Quiet Place was disappointing to me. It didn’t scare me. It didn’t move me. It didn’t make me think.