A Quiet Place (2018) and Defining Horror pt. 1/3

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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7 thoughts on “A Quiet Place (2018) and Defining Horror pt. 1/3

  1. Interesting idea that horror mixes categories or are the rationalists mixed up in believing the fantastic does exist? Anyway in defining what horror is I believe Helene, the writer, is right in categorizing this movie as not belonging to the genre of horror. First of all the monsters in the movie are just dino`s (that did exist in some moment in objectivity) and not the result of mixing categories and secondly if I read correctly the movie is more about fearfully anticipating monsters by the ‘republican’ family, thus suspense, rather about the monsters themselves.
    Question: if a zombie is a ‘mixing’ of the categories (inorganic) dead and (organic) life, is a zombie a living dead or a dead living creature or are there two kinds of zombies? Personally if I am forced to choose I would say that a dead person who becomes alive is more a transgression of the category ‘dead’ than a living person who seems to be dead is a transgression of the category ‘life’. If you have been working in an corporate office high chances that you have seen living people who are dead(ly tedious having lost all their power of will (to dream)).

    Rahim

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rahim,

      Ty for your thought! Had to smile about your reference to office people as the living dead. 🙂

      To answer your question, first: I do think that how horror transgresses categories does show something about what it is exactly we fear the most at a certain time at a certain place. Think about the shifts from fearing technology (The Ring, for example) to fearing our own biology reflected in the zombie. A zombie becomes a zombie via ‘infection’, something has crossed the boundary of the body, changing the body to something no longer belonging to you, no longer belonging to the living. I always think it is a combination of fear of viruses and cancer, a cancer cell being ‘immortal’, feeding of you, while possibly killing you.

      I agree with you that a dead person (btw a corpse is still organic) who becomes alive is a stronger transgression, it has a stronger or maybe just an easier connotation of ‘impossible’. However: those almost identical suits, going to their offices, typing away data at their desks with unknown results scare me too!

      Helene

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  2. Dear Helene,

    The idea of infection is interesting and we can see it at the corporate workplace. A young enthusiastic new hire becomes more enthusiastic for he or she is just hired and due great expectations the managers are enthusiastic, but after some time the enthusiasm diminishes and is destroyed. The new hire has become an old tedious corporate worker.

    To connect the zombie in the more primary sense as in horror movies, of which the zombie in the office is an analogy, with an expression of our fear on cancer is something I had to ponder on instantly when I read that and my instantaneous ‘instinct’ told me that cancer is non-organized life. When life is organized it is ensouled and life that is ensouled is self-conscious thus cancer is the symbol of an evaporating soul. (The soul is not necessary destroyed by itself as if cancer is your own fault, but in my opinion most times is it destroyed by an external cause). The soul is infected with to much life that its spirit cannot organize so its life gets a life of its own!

    Anyway a non-organized organism, body, conveys the idea of unconscious and the unconscious is a mix of the category death and life, as in that the unconscious is a dead life, that is somethings alive of which you predicate death. This definies the tedious zombie at work to the extreme.
    The ‘primary’ zombie is a dead being of which your predicate life. That would be as a cancer that can organize itself into a new organized body in order to destroy you(r body) even quicker.

    Kind regards,

    Rahim Ikram

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rahim,

      About the young energised young hire, I have always found it ‘scarier’ to see the effects of making money on people. But still, I also like the idea of ‘vampirism’, the old (themselves being instruments of a faceless organisation if I understand you correctly) feeding off and stealing from the young.

      I will have to ponder myself on the unorganised or organised state of cancer. My immediate thought went towards masses and spreading as a way of being, and I am not sure that is too different from human life, but I will ponder some more. Do you mean the Freudian death drive when you talk about the unconscious or literally that which is not conscious?

      In defining pt 3. I plan to touch upon your very first question, if the rationalists are mixed up. 🙂

      Helene

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      1. Dear Helene,

        I meant that organisations, ‘the impersonal system’, can suck the soul out of (young) people.

        To answer the second question: I meant unconscious not in the Freudian way, but as not self-conscious. Zombies are conscious of things in the world, but lack self-conscious, thus lack a soul (who has the effect of organizing life into a self-conscious body when you define the soul, from the perspective of the body as organizing life-force). The dead body of a zombie still contains some life-force, like a dead eel, but the soul is gone. The effect of the soul is present, but the soul is not present. Without going into much detail on self-conscious I just tried to convey the idea that a zombie scares for I see a human body but no human soul. For that reason I do not like apes: their body is kind of ‘humanish’ (rather than that human bodies are ape-like), but the miss humanity, a human soul. Maybe it is the reason some people are scared of mongols.

        Best,

        Rahim Ikram Malik

        Like

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