During his heyday, Alfred Hitchcock coined the term “the ice box scene,” which refers to a movie scene whose plot issues become apparent to the audience sometime after the fact. A Quiet Place could be described as the ice box movie – thoroughly watchable in the moment, but logically wanting when given any serious thought.
That’s not to say it’s a bad movie – not by a long shot. But before we get into all that, the story: years after the world has been devastated by seemingly-invulnerable creatures that hunt based on sound, only small pockets of survivors remain. Among them are Lee Abbott (John Krasinski), and his family, living on a rural farm where they eek out their existence in near-silence. Though they manage well enough, there’s a major complication on the horizon: Lee’s wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt) is pregnant, and her baby’s inevitable arrival is a ticking time bomb in the family’s controlled, hyper-quiet world.
The movie’s much-touted use of sound (and lack thereof) puts a novel twist on a fairly generic setup, and allows for some moments of real intimacy, like Lee and his son’s (Noah Jupe) visit to a waterfall, where they both enjoy a rare opportunity to scream at the top of their lungs without fear of death. These low-key scenes are a key part of the balancing act at the heart of the movie: long stretches of peaceful, almost-idyllic silence punctuated by bursts of heart-pounding terror. It’s a potent mix, and one that keeps its footing through the movie’s strong first act.
Unfortunately, A Quiet Place can’t quite maintain this balance throughout, even with a tight running time of ninety minutes. By its second half, its pattern of hushed familial introspection, followed by nail-biting creature encounter, followed by narrow escape becomes predictable. The tense moments are still tense, but far too often they use the movie’s auditory conceit in the least imaginative way possible: as a means to create amped-up jump-scares. While undeniably effective, these loud shocks wear out their welcome well before the movie is over. It’s telling that the movie’s scariest scene – a claustrophobic run-in with one of the monsters in a flooding basement – eschews them completely.
With a cast this tiny, every performance is key, and A Quiet Place more than delivers on this front. Krasinski and Blunt provide us with sympathetic, believable anchors for the action while the two children prove equally capable. Some of the character beats are less-than-inspired (the arc between Lee and his daughter is a well-worn one indeed), but they’re pulled off with workmanlike proficiency.
Well, that about covers it, except for that ice-box business I mentioned earlier. Consider this a major spoiler warning for the rest of this paragraph. Still here? OK, then, let’s dive right into the plot holes. Why would Lee and Evelyn decide to have a baby when it could only endanger the lives of their family? What was their plan to raise the baby once it was born? How did none of the world’s scientists discover the creatures’ fairly obvious weakness much, much earlier? Why did Lee sacrifice himself when he could have just thrown the axe to distract the creature?
Normally I wouldn’t apply such strict logical standards to a horror movie, but A Quiet Place asks to be taken seriously, and in doing so one must address its myriad lapses in logic. But as I said earlier, these only became apparent after my viewing, and didn’t impede my enjoyment of the experience itself. Because despite all its flaws, A Quiet Place ends up firmly in good-movie territory, offering up a lean, tense horror-thriller with far more heart than most of its contemporaries.