Before we start my review of A Quiet Place, let’s get one thing straight: I don’t like jump scares in horror movies. They’re a lazy, uninspired, cheap way to illicit one microsecond of fear out of an audience. My one criticism of last year’s pretty-good-but-not-great ITremake was that most of the horror relied on tacky jump scares from Pennywise. Jump scares are not scary; they’re startling. And good horror movies use them sparingly. A Quiet Place is almost nothing but jump scares. And yet…I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I kept asking myself every time something jumped into frame from offscreen why it was that I enjoyed this movie so much, and the answer that I came to was that the jump scares here aren’t a half-hearted effort to spice up an unremarkable horror film. Quite the opposite in fact. The jump scares are a storytelling device that wholeheartedly belong in the world that the story has created. If you’re unfamiliar with Director John Krasinkski’s third directorial outing, I’ll give you a very basic rundown (spoiler-free of course) that explains why the jump scares make sense. In A Quiet Place, the world has been overrun with monsters that hunt based on hearing alone. And they are fast. Incredibly, ridiculously, jump-into-frame-while-your-popcorn-is-halfway-to-your-mouth fast.
These things appear biologically crafted from the ground up to detect noise and dispose of whoever made it, so the characters in A Quiet Place are understandably very quiet. There are probably less than twenty lines of spoken dialogue throughout the film and the characters primarily use sign language to communicate. It’s a bit of an artsy film in that respect. This lack of traditional dialogue may rub some viewers the wrong way, but I found it to be a compelling storytelling method. Not once did I feel like the story suffered because of the minimal dialogue, and the cast deserves kudos for managing to convey so many words with nothing but their faces and hands.
The standout to me was relative newcomer Millicent Simmonds. This is only her second film (after 2017’s Wonderstruck), but the young actress has proven that she has what it takes to carry a film. The father-daughter relationship her character has with John Krasinski serves as the emotional core of the movie, and it’s a success because of the performances put in by both actors. A weaker actress would have left the movie feeling hollow and empty, but Simmonds does a wonderful job of making sure that we empathize with a rebellious teenager who feels like a burden because she is deaf.
If there is one complaint to be made about the movie, it’s that the rules created by the universe it takes place in are a bit hazy. There are a few times in the movie where the hearing capabilities of the monsters seem to randomly switch back and forth between “super-hearing” and “mostly deaf.” This is most noticeable when the stakes have been raised in the third act, and it’s a bit baffling that the movie did such a mediocre job of communicating the limitations of it’s monsters. You can either have “They can hear a toy in the middle of the woods from a decent distance” or “They can’t hear a person loudly breathing in the same house”. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, movie. These moments towards the finale felt a bit too deus ex machina filled for my tastes, and I wish the movie would have been a bit more consistent with what the monsters could and couldn’t hear.
Despite that minor frustration, the overall film holds together well. The entirety of its 90-minute runtime is filled with an underlying sense of dread and tension, and it’s this incredible construction of atmosphere that justifies the existence of its jump scares. This is a movie that uses every tool in it’s toolbox to great effect, even if I personally am not a huge fan of some of the tools that it chooses. If you have the chance to see it in theaters with booming surround sound, do it. If not, you should definitely try to at least give A Quiet Place a quick rental. It’s not a horror movie that will change your life forever, but it’s creepy and damn good fun.