Welcome to “Movies In Conversation,” a new Screen beat feature at The Stanford Daily. In this week’s edition, critics Abe Thompson and Hamza Zahurullah offer differing opinions on the horror hit “A Quiet Place.” The film is set in the aftermath of an alien invasion. The extraterrestrial creatures hunt humans and attack anything they hear. Therefore, the Abbott family must live in complete silence. This conversation has been edited for clarity. Note: contains spoilers.
Abe Thompson (AT): I really liked it. I like it because it’s similar to “Get Out.” It’s this new subgenre of horror — a sort of drama-horror — so there’s a focus on the characters rather than just jump scares. That works really well because it focuses on how these characters are shaped by the environment they’re in. They can’t speak, and they use sign language. It’s so interesting to see the intense emotion conveyed through sign language. I thought John Krasinski and the entire cast were very good, especially the fantastic child actors. These are difficult roles because you can’t say much. It’s all in the face and gestures.
Hamza Zahurullah (HZ): Yeah, definitely. I don’t think there’s anything that’s a straight negative against the film. I thought it had really excellent world building. I love the premise for this; I love the rules they establish for what you can and can’t do. That leads into the next thing: really good narrative payoff with great little moments. Like, there’s a baby coming: How on earth do you deal with a crying baby? The set pieces centered around the baby crying are really effective and probably the tensest moments in the film. There’s also solid sound design: There are so many ways you could screw up this movie if you have too much ambient noise. Good setup there. Good set pieces. You could argue that it’s structured the same way an action movie is structured — you have your beats in each act and the last act, but all the tension is ratcheted up — really solid job on that. The parenting was really touching and really sad. I’m glad that’s a part of it.
AT: Touching on the sound, soundtrack is so important in horror movies. As in “Get Out,” the soundtrack adds so much. It’s not something you necessarily think about, but the lack of any discernible sound or music worked well. It’s especially critical to a movie with that premise. There were long moments of silence, which is unusual in a movie, but it worked. It worked really well, and John Krasinski, the director, worked that into the overall atmosphere expertly.
HZ: No, definitely, I think it’s a critique of a lot of horror films that are going to be dependent on jump scares just by nature of their presentation and their subject matter. They’re really reliant on long periods of silence and then jump scares at the end, that’s the fun of watching it. But this movie makes aesthetic sense, and it makes narrative sense. Very traditional ghost and slasher films have the beats you need to hit. This didn’t feel clichéd.
I still have mixed feelings about the film. I definitely share your opinion. I love the idea of the aliens. I love how you’re not shown them in full frame and how they’re kept out of the film until the second act onwards — it’s really, really well done, but I do agree with you, once they show you all of it …
AT: It becomes less scary.
HZ: It becomes less scary. On the one hand, you could say the actual monster design is well detailed. In some ways, I think it can be a little unsettling — the appearance of flesh and kind of like arachnoid, dog-type movements. My concern came from two things from the monster design. One is unfortunately the CGI. I think most of it is fine. Maybe there were more practical effects than I thought. But especially in the last scene of the film, when the camera focuses on it too much, the CGI hurts the tension a little bit. But then I think my bigger thing was the design is unoriginal.
AT: My general qualm with it, when they show the monster, is it becomes more sci-fi than horror. You’re drawn inevitably to “Alien” and “Cloverfield,” so it takes the film in a slightly opposite direction from where it’s actually wanting to go. Your mind is in a slightly different place than where the movie wants it to be. That’s slightly disappointing since you have such good tension and ambience up until this point. Then, it bursts with the full exposure of the monster.
There’s one scene in particular that I loved where she wakes up, and there’s a monster in the water. I thought that was brilliant because it was absolutely terrifying. Also, you don’t know whether it has the baby or not. That tapped into a very primal fear — the mother protecting her child — and that whole sequence was fantastic because you got the creature, but you still didn’t see all of it. You saw its general shape, and you knew it was there. At that point, that had been the most you’d ever seen of one of the monsters.
HZ: My one other criticism for the film: run time and pacing. After watching the movie, I felt like 10-15 minutes sprinkled in here and there would have helped with the pacing. You could dedicate that time to some additional vignettes showing the family’s relationship with their surroundings.
AT: I definitely see that. Personally, I did like how the film was structured. I believe the film took place over the course of two days with the intertitle cards letting us know how much time had passed, starting with day 89 and then jumping to day 454 just to show us that one year had passed, which makes sense given the state of the mother’s pregnancy. Perhaps more filler would have helped.
HZ: So that meant that by the end of the film, we as an audience are left with some unanswered questions. I’m hesitant to call them plot holes. It is effective to not show the audience your whole hand of cards and explain how everything in the world works. Thankfully, the practice also avoids coming across as sequel-baiting.
Between “Get Out” and “A Quiet Place,” I feel like horror films are really re-entering the mainstream consciousness. I know that “A Quiet Place” is going to get recommended to people that don’t watch horror films, and I’m very curious to hear what their response will be. More than that, I’m curious to see how Hollywood continues this trend of popular, critically-acclaimed horror movies.