The Top Ten Best Films list now jumps over to Ponty, who I believe is enjoying a much-deserved holiday this week (although that was possibly last week). Here’s hoping he’s enjoying some peace and quiet.
Speaking of quiet, Ponty’s first pick for his list is a film that explores a terrifying world in which staying quiet is the only way to stay alive. If only students were similarly terrified into shivering silence. Oh, well.
It’s a wonderful picture—one of my favorite recent films, too—and a very intriguing concept, executed extremely well. I could say the same thing about this review, which is exceptionally thorough and interesting (and has me wanting to go back and watch 1963’s Jason and The Argonauts).
With that, here is Ponty’s review of 2018’s A Quiet Place:
For every 50 duds released each year, you’ll usually get one great film. Or you would pre-2000, back in the days when filmmakers were free to put out a piece which wouldn’t be ravaged by the perpetually offended. A great film, as you’ll know, is one you feel completely invested in. Where every sound in a darkened alley makes you leap with fright, every explosion makes you ready for action, where tragedy makes you weep uncontrollably. Characters you come to know and care about. Soundtracks that become welcome nostalgia. Stories and plotlines that you can’t take your eyes off. They are pure escapism, total immersion. When someone asks you for your best and worst lists, you could usually name thousands of bad films but finding your favourites takes a little more thought. Like Tyler, this list contains my favourites but that doesn’t mean they are not technically gifted or are without artistic merit. They all have an intrinsic quality about them or an idiosyncratic style that hooks you in and pulls you along for the ride. What could be better?
Suffice to say, it was a pain in the backside trying to whittle down this list. I had already started to write a review for The Goonies (1985), a childhood film I loved and which piqued my already adventurous imagination. As it turned out, when I started to write down my favourite films, after careful thought, I took a different route. To creature features, in fact.
I love this genre. As a child, I remember watching classics like King Kong (1933) and the Ray Harryhausen films that lit up the mid 20th century and became completely hooked. That moment in Jason and The Argonauts (1963) when Talos climbs off his plinth and starts to hunt down the Argonauts. It still makes me shudder. Find me an 80s kid who doesn’t remember that and I’ll find you an honest politician.
As much as I like to see the creatures themselves, a great creature feature needs a good story, an engaging cast and it also needs, for me anyway, those elements of horror and thriller that keep you riveted. I found a few films that do that, and then the struggle was finding my favourite among them. The few I thought of initially were Tremors (1990), Predator (1987), and The Descent (2005). All 3 films are utterly engaging, for different reasons, and would at any other time have found themselves in my top 10 had it not been for a film released in 2018 which hit all the right buttons.
A Quiet Place follows the Abbott family as they struggle to live and survive in a post apocalyptic world where monsters with ultra sensitive hearing roam the land.
I’ve watched this film a few times and it still puts me on edge. It has that extraordinary ability to capture the audience, to the point where you, the viewer, don’t want to make a sound and alert the monsters to your protagonists. Watching the Abbotts try and live – doing the washing, scavenging, making dinner, playing games – in an environment where any sound louder than a soft footstep could bring the monsters to their door is utterly thrilling and positively engaging. They adapt, as you’d have to in that situation, but they are still on tenterhooks, knowing the slightest mistake could kill them. Worst of all, Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt) is heavily pregnant and she and her husband, Lee (John Krasinski, who also wrote and directed this film) already have 2 other children – Regan (the superb Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe) – to protect.
Try to imagine what could happen in this environment if, say, you dropped a lamp or stood on a nail or, God forbid, gave birth without pain relief and you’ll get an idea of how riveting this film is. And on top of that, one of the kids, Regan, is deaf, which makes you wonder how someone unaware of the sounds she is making could survive in that sort of world. When you see how close knit the family are and what they will do for each other, it all becomes clear. It also helps that they speak to each other in sign language or, on occasion, light whispers, making their journey through this life a damn sight easier. They lay sand on their regular routes so their bare feet won’t make much sound against the ground and have a lighting system set up at home – which switches to red when there is possible danger – to give them the chance to either hide or move should the monsters breach their uncomfortable life. And yet, they continue to live.
There are touching moments throughout the film where briefly, the external horror fades as the Abbotts try to live as they might have before the world went to hell. Evelyn and Lee share a song, played through earphones, and a dance; Lee takes Noah to collect fish from the river and shows his son that as long as they’re in an area where the natural sound eclipses their voices, they can shout as they would before; Noah takes lessons from Evelyn and Regan and Noah play a game of Monopoly. In those moments, you remember that not only are they survivors but are actively trying to retain the life they lost.
The new world, though, doesn’t leave them alone. On one of their trips, Lee and Noah come upon a survivor who has seen his companion killed. He can see that Lee has his son with him but unable to contain his grief, he screams in pain, Lee and Noah running for cover as one of the monsters speeds through the woods towards the sound of the cry. At the beginning of the film, we’re reminded that very small kids, still trying to work out their environment, would struggle to survive in this new normal. The Abbotts go through their own pain, as much as any other family would in those circumstances and near the end, when Evelyn painfully gives birth in a bathtub, the Abbotts come together more than ever to ensure the survival of mother, newborn and each other as the creatures hunt their quarry.
This movie really does what it says on the tin. Despite its sinister one tone soundtrack, which kicks in during times of danger, it is in the main a very quiet movie which I found very refreshing. No victims running around screaming. No daft one liners. No vendettas. Just a few ordinary people trying to survive in a near impossible world and the acting is absolutely superb.
I think it helped that Emily Blunt and John Krasinski were off screen husband and wife. You can really see the chemistry between them and their pain, knowing how much they’ve given up and what they still have, what they need to protect. It’s one of the great things about this film – rather than knock the family unit, which is becoming a staple of modern entertainment, this film celebrates it. Yes, there are issues but every family will have their small conflicts. Evelyn and Lee, while reminding their kids of the dangers of the new world, give their children a grounding in pre apocalyptic life so they don’t grow up embittered or vengeful. It’s a good thing to see in modern movies. Maybe this was pivotal to Krasinski when he wrote it.
Readers here will know about my aversion to kids on film but I have no complaints with the performances of Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe. Simmonds especially, as Regan, plays an important role in this film and the dynamics between her and Krasinski are palpable as she struggles not only with her disability but with guilt over an earlier tragedy. Both actors portrayed a certain maturity for the roles they filled and will go far if they continue like this.
The direction and pace was nicely controlled and nothing about this film seemed too abrupt or long winded. Rather, the audience has the time to process each character and their relationships with each other and the horror, whether visceral or impending, is never superfluous – the angles are nicely tracked, the fear on the watchful faces of the Abbotts, as every creak or movement is followed, feels genuine and there are some nice side or off angles, where the creatures can either flit or fill the frame. The audience are also thankful for a script that lifts off the page, giving us a rich dissection of the characters, their relationship to each other and their strengths, whether in peril or at ease.
And as for the monsters themselves, well, have a look for yourself.
I love the design for these things. Long spindly, yet strong legs to help them sprint at great speeds towards their prey or leap to high places. Razor sharp teeth, much like the lickers in Resident Evil but the most impressive part of their makeup is their hearing, its head splitting apart to allow their pin point accurate hearing to find its target. This film could have been made with too much focus on the creatures and not enough on their prospective victims but everything was perfectly managed. I have no complaints whatsoever about this movie, only praise and a recommendation to anyone who hasn’t seen it to watch it.
The second part came out a couple of years ago and is an excellent follow up. My advice? Go out and buy both of these films. Close the curtains, take the phone off the hook and curl up with your respective other. You won’t be disappointed.