Tremors meets 28 Days Later
By Michael Burton, staff writer
Horror films are commonly dependent on three factors for success. The first is sound design. A good score can heighten tension, but more important is the use of silence, and allowing the audience to imagine what is going on around the characters that they cannot hear. The second is concealing the monster, a la Alien or Jaws; you do not see the antagonist very often in either film, mostly due to technical limitations of the time, but only rarely seeing the monster allows the audience to fill in the gaps of its horrifying appearance, even if (in the case of Alien) it is literally a man in a rubber suit.
The third factors is rules. Freddy Krueger can only attack in dreams. Make too much noise in Tremors and a graboid will attack. Do not feed gremlins water. Rules provide a framework for the audience to understand the monster’s motives and methods, while also providing a means for the protagonists to exploit and overcome the opposition.
A Quiet Place’s rules are simple, and the first five minutes of the film lay it out beautifully: make too much noise, you die instantly.
This is a quiet film, so quiet that I frequently and to my annoyance heard the film playing in the next theater over. Characters have at most about a dozen lines of spoken dialogue in the film, most of it whispered, while the rest is either silence or sign language.
In addition to allowing the actors to really get the most mileage out of their facial expressions, the film also places a great deal of emphasis on its cinematography. The film never tells us that most of the planet is outright empty of human life by this point. All it shows us is walls crammed with missing persons posters, an empty town, and a single quiet family doing their best to make as little noise as possible. It is more than enough.
The film’s first half excels at ratcheting up tension. The monsters are seen for at most about three total seconds, just enough to get an idea of how strong, fast, and ugly they are. Despite rarely appearing, the character’s adherence to remaining silent, even when throwing tantrums, speaks to their figurative omnipresence. In a market crammed with movies dedicated to being as loud as possible, A Quiet Place stands out for making the audience lean it with bated breath to listen for each sound.
It is not a perfect film. The second half is much weaker than the first, once (surprise) a character is forced to make a lot of noise. It is at this point that the audience gets to see the monster in all its glory. To the credit of the design team, its an impressive looking specimen with a lot of imposing physicality; it looks like a real beast. Unfortunately, seeing what the creature looked like up close definitely robbed it of some of its mystique.
The other two issues are more problematic. The first is that the second half of the film can be summed up by one scene, repeated about six times: monster arrives, character backs into corner looking (understandably) like he/she is about to cry, monster gets up close, a loud noise
somewhere else drives the monster away. There is not enough variation in these six or so scenes to ignore the sense of de ja vu.
The second issue deals purely with the film’s climax. I will not spoil anything beyond the fact that these beasties have a weakness, and the weakness makes sense. Unfortunately, it makes so much sense that it would likely have been the second choice for the U.S. military to confront these things, and we have existing weapons at present that could have dealt with these creatures. The idea that, over the course of 473 days, no one thought to try this particular method to combat the enemy is more than a little preposterous.
Despite these flaws, this is the most riveting horror film I have seen in several years, and I am beyond delighted to get to see it in a theater. I highly recommend this film to anyone on campus who is not afraid to feel a little tense and is prepared to maybe suffer a few nightmares because of the film’s premise and presentation.
I should know. I am already there.