Monday, July 30, 2018

A Quiet Place

There's a classic Twilight Zone episode called "Time Enough At Last" concerning a bank teller named Henry Bemis. Henry is the sort of bookworm I was myself: he reads to retreat from a cruel world, and he needs thick, thick glasses to do it.
One day, by sheerest (good? horrid?) luck, he's alone in the bank's vault when a nuclear bomb detonates, vaporizing his city. He alone has survived.
At first, he considers suicide, but he spies the ruins of the local library and investigates, discovering its books are intact and readable. Hell becomes a heaven: no people pestering him, making fun of what he's reading (or THAT he's reading); no obligations or unpleasant distractions to draw him away from his beloved books. He gathers a pile to read, and just as he's about to sit down and get started, he stumbles and his glasses shatter. The last lines apart from Rod Serling's iconic conclusion:

 "That's not fair. That's not fair at all. There was time now. There was—was all the time I needed…! It's not fair! It's not fair!"

A silent world used to be a fantasy of mine, back in the day. Like most of my fantasies, I didn't bother to think that one through. All I saw were positives: no nagging parents, no tormenting bullies, total freedom to (radiation notwithstanding) eat what I want, when I wanted. The lack of social interaction was actually the largest positive I could think of, back when every social interaction I had was fraught at best and disastrous at worst.

But no music. Maybe no nagging parents, but no loving parents either (and they were about the only ones who did love me...I certainly didn't have any friends). No chance of ever leaning how to make  friends.
Not even any new books!
Never mind the impracticalities that would have killed me within a month at most; that imagined fantasyland would have soured in a hell of a hurry.

I would have been eight when I saw "Time Enough At Last". It became an archetype for me: many of my favourite pieces of sf and horror examine isolation from one angle or another. Even though I now crave sociability far more than I ever did seclusion, I'm still drawn to considering the theme and its implications, especially now in the age of so-called social media. And I can't deny that every once in a while, when the world seems be going crazy, a malignant echo of that childhood fantasy burps up from the mental basement and I find myself considering what a world shorn of all but myself and those I love might look like.

Of course, in such a world it's stipulated that I/we can make noise. Not so in the world of A Quiet Place.

This movie was the centrepiece of Saturday evening for Kathy and I. It was bookended by two of 'my' movies, ones I had seen before and which I wanted her to see. She HATED Orgazmo and was lukewarm on the American remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. (I prefer the original Swedish version, but didn't want to inflict subtitles on her). But we, both of us, were highly impressed by A Quiet Place. And I think you will be, too.

It's set in 2020. Some unspecified catastrophe has befallen the world. All that's left, it seems, is the Abbott family: patriarch Lee (John Krasinski), his wife (in real life, too) Evelyn (Emily Blunt), and their children Marcus (Noah Jupe), Beau (Cade Woodwaard) and deaf Regan (Millicent Simmonds, magnificently acted). We open 89 days after whatever happened, and everything is silent. It soon becomes apparent why: any noise above the slightest whisper attracts a sightless but voracious monster to feast on whoever made it.

The Abbotts communicate in ASL; dialogue of any kind is kept to a minimum. (It turns out that loud noises can mask quieter ones like conversations, but wisely, this deus ex machina is employed sparingly and effectively. )

I would argue that horror needs love as an ingredient to be fully successful, and as such this film succeeds marvellously. Despite the lack of dialogue, the love each of the family members has for the others is even more palpable than the dread you feel that at any moment, one of them might fart or sneeze and be chomped.

 There's a moment early on where Lee and Evelyn dance to Neil Young's "Harvest Moon", played through earbuds very firmly lodged. Whew, I thought. Music exists here. Even Neil Young is an improvement on this oppressive, enforced silence.

When I learned that Evelyn was pregnant, I was aghast...which should tell you just how emotionally invested I had become in a very short time. What a hellish world to be born into, I thought, and then how in the hell is she going to give birth silently?

There are nitpicks and logical inconsistencies if you want to dig for them. But this movie does a better job than most of its type at keeping its world consistent. Given the premise, the actors perform believably and brilliantly at every stop, and the ending sets up a sequel without being ham-handed about it. It's the kind of movie that will stick with you for a while: you may find yourself surprised at how it's impossible to move silently around your own home.

A Quiet Place has much to say on the love of family in the face of unspeakable (literally!) horror. You should see it.

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