When Words Won't Do

If you haven't heard, A QUIET PLACE knocked it out of the park during its first week in theaters and is set to pass $100M this weekend. OWA Screenwriting Director Eric Harrelson caught it and lays out some thoughts:

Use of sound in Horror is one of the basic scare cues; the jumpscare cat fake-out or the sudden crash of the monster against the window.  We are naturally startled by sudden, loud noises breaking the silence.  It’s something that has been with us since our days as primates, when detecting a predator was the difference between living and dying.  We are startled, scared.  Adrenaline floods our veins and our heart begins to beat faster and faster; our breathing gets heavier and more rapid, and our muscles tense up, preparing us for escape or confrontation.  It’s no wonder we seek this rush of chemicals and oxygen, to replicate the rush of a life or death fight in the comfort of a theater or our homes.  But you know that. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re enough of a Horror fan to love that tightness in your chest and the clenching of your guts that good Horror can bring. 


So what is there to say about A QUIET PLACE?  It feels somehow wrong to use words to describe a film that is so devoid of them itself. I could bang on about the use of tension that forced silence brings. I could talk at length about the attention to visual detail: how when we are deprived of verbal and audible exposition, we have to rely on our ability to recognize and extrapolate what is going on in this particular world and how to survive within it using only what we can see. I could talk about the progression of the apocalypse film, how the blind monsters represent the ever present danger that usually takes the form of zombies or vampires or marauders, the backdrop for the breakdown of human relationships. I could celebrate the fantastic performances from the cast and the fantastic eye of director John Krasinski. But none of that seems to fit.  There are numerous comparisons to make, from the last few years of small budget Horror like THE VVITCH or IT COMES AT NIGHT, or the Emmy-winning BUFFY episode "Hush," but for some reason it fails to capture the simple elegance of A QUIET PLACE. 


The Horror part is just what draws us in.  It’s a clever backdrop for story about a family dealing with grief, about the things that are unsaid when life reaches in and plucks something precious from us.  We have a hard time talking about our emotions, even to those closest to us, and in some cases, especially those closest to us.  The emotional turmoil and trauma can be overwhelming and impossible to vocalize, much less vocalize in a productive and healthy way.  A QUIET PLACE amplifies those problems of expression by making all expression difficult and possibly fatal.  Tragedy produces feelings of guilt, blame, anger, regret, sadness, and a host of other uncomfortable and difficult emotions.  Dealing with those emotions can take years even in the most ideal of conditions, but putting that struggle against the backdrop of an apocalypse gives the characters so much more to worry about, that they aren’t taking care of themselves or each other in any greater sense other than survival.

A QUIET PLACE is about the pain of loss.  It’s about trying to move forward and establish a new sense of normal when the world has been thrown into total chaos.  It’s about communication and finding a way say the things that are difficult to express.  It’s about coming to terms with survivor’s guilt and learning how to be part of a family again.  It’s also about a terrifying apocalypse, full of seemingly invincible monsters that can kill you instantly if you make just a little too much noise.