Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, February 17, 2019

OSCARS 2019: A Quiet Place (2018)

Even though it's all cinema, my horror movie fandom and my love/hate relationship with the Oscars do not crossover very often. Yes, the cliché that the Academy turns its collective nose up at “low” genres like horror, sci-fi, action, and comedy is still largely true, even in 2019. Look no further than Toni Collete's incredible performance in “Hereditary,” clearly among the year's best acting, being snubbed even with an aggressive campaign from A24. So, anytime a horror movie does manage to snag an Oscar nomination, it's a pretty big deal. Even if it's only in one of the weird technical categories most people don't care about. Such is the case with “A Quiet Place,” a critically acclaimed horror sleeper hit from last year. While John Krasinski's debut directorial credit was not ignored during awards season, the only Oscar nomination it received was in the very appropriate category of Best Sound Editing.

Set in the near future, after Earth has been taken over by predatory monsters that hunt strictly by sound, “A Quiet Place” follows the Abbott family. Evelyn and Lee were more prepared for a quiet world than most, as their daughter – Regan – was born deaf. Despite everyone, including oldest son Marcus, knowing sign language, youngest son Beau is still killed by one of the creatures. A year later, Evelyn is pregnant again, about to give birth. Regan is spending more time away from home, blaming herself for Beau's death. While out on a fishing trip with Marcus, a group of monsters sneak into the Abbott household just as Evelyn starts to give birth.

“A Quiet Place” is John Krasinski's baby, as he stars, directs, and co-wrote the screenplay. The former sitcom star proves surprisingly adapt at generating scenes of suspense. “A Quiet Place” functions on drawn-out sequences of tension. The movie successfully piles on one grim thrill after another. While out on a hike, Lee and Marcus come upon an old man. The camera lingers on everyone's faces, as you prepare for the inevitable scream to come, summoning the creatures. This technique – long build-up follow by monster attacks – becomes especially apparent in the last act. There are multiple scenes of the family hiding from the monsters, mere feet from them. Whether it's lurking through water or hiding in a grain silo, the movie does well by constantly placing its protagonists into danger and letting the audience simmer in that doubt as long as possible.

The balance of silence and noise is especially important to the film. Look at its opening sequence. We follow the Abbots as they raid a grocery store for supplies. The film watches quietly, as Beau is tempted to pick up a toy space shuttle. Finally, the overwhelming quiet is overturned when one of the beasts springs forward to attack. Later, a nail protruding from a staircase sets up an even grislier moment later in the film. Krasinski doesn't quite keep this balance throughout. The movie has its share of jump-scares, loud noises shrieking on the soundtrack. In the final act, tension fades as the family takes on the monsters one-on-one, Marco Beltrami's score blaring. But, for a long time, “A Quite Place” is pretty damn effective.

Another thing I like about the movie is the nature of its monstrous antagonists. We get vague hints at where these creatures come from. Newspaper headlines are glimpsed in the background, establishing the monsters' method of hunting. The exact origins of the creatures, however, are kept delightfully vague. Are they extraterrestrial in nature? Demonic? We don't know. “A Quiet Place' isn't about a global invasion of monsters. Instead, it focuses in on this very specific corner of the world during this particular crisis. The monsters themselves – I've taken to calling them Ear Mantises – are “Cloverfield” style hairless spider monkeys. I do like the way their Venom-esque heads open up into giant hearing organs though.

What perhaps makes “A Quiet Place” better than the typical mall horror installment is its sense of heart. There's a definite story of forgiveness and familial love here. Regan blames herself for Beau's death and feels like her father hasn't forgiven her. Ultimately, this is a story about the family overcoming this trauma. A strong cast helps further sell this emotion. Krasinski keeps it in the family, casting real life wife Emily Blunt as Evelyn. Blunt is especially good at conveying pain and fear through suppressed gasps and concerned faces. The real revelation here are the kids. Millicent Simmonds as Regan and Noah Jupe as Marcus are both excellent. The emotion Simmonds shows during the tense scenes with Krasinski are extremely well done. It's a good thing you root for these kids, since them being endangered is what drives the entire last third.

I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to horror, I'll be the first to admit that. When I saw the posters and trailers for “A Quiet Place” last year, I expected another lame, PG-13 jump scare fest. Especially once I saw the Platinum Dunes production logo. I'm happy to eat some crow in cases like this, as the movie turned out to be pretty good. I'd even be up for that sequel that's been announced, as there's certainly more of this world and scenario to explore. (Even if it means spoiling the ambiguity that worked so well here.) And should win the Sound Editing Oscar? Well, it would be pretty neat if a creature feature grabbed a little gold man. [7/10]

1 comment:

Monty Park said...

FYI- this is actually the third movie John Krasinski has directed.