By Preston Wilder
If you can’t say something nice, goes the phrase, don’t say anything at all. Or, in movie terms: if your dialogue is liable to be cheesy and embarrassing, better to have no dialogue at all – or at least, as little as possible.
That’s the guiding principle in A Quiet Place, with a plot that might’ve been reverse-engineered to fit this particular gimmick. John Krasinski (who also directed) and Emily Blunt are the parents of a young rural family in a dystopian near-future overrun by monsters. The monsters, great spindly insect-like creatures, are lightning-fast but also blind, responding only to sound – so the way to avoid them is to stay very, very quiet. No talking (except in sign language), no crying, no loud toys or beeping electronics. If you must play Monopoly, make sure you roll the dice on the carpet. “Big sounds” are forbidden in this world – a fitting stricture in a film that makes a virtue of its smallness, running a trim 90 minutes in one main location.
Not that A Quiet Place is low on incident or excitement; it’s not even quiet, with a rather emphatic music score (a scene where the couple slow-dance to Neil Young – flooding the film with sudden music – would’ve been more effective had it shattered half an hour of total silence; but you can’t do that in a multiplex movie). As if to make up for the absence of dialogue, Krasinski goes for all-out jump-scares, gory collateral damage, plus additional perils involving a flooded house and a grain silo where one of the kids almost suffocates. It’s unclear how the family have a silo full of grain after 472 days of enforced isolation, but let’s not get snippy with such a smart little movie.
There is one conspicuously smart element. We know something the characters don’t – something pretty major, viz. a way to destroy the monsters once and for all – and it makes for constant tension in the second half, when the house is surrounded and the stakes raised considerably. Otherwise the thrills are a mixed bag, seeming rather contrived and relentless. The details of life without sound are amusing (viewers looking for a quirkier take on a similar gimmick are directed to Guy Maddin’s outlandish Careful, from 1992), especially when the teenage daughter clearly longs to launch into a whiny tantrum but can only pout and look daggers at her mum – but the action gets a bit frenetic, the suspense piled on with a trowel. At one point, Mum (who is both barefoot and very pregnant) steps on an exposed nail as she’s coming down the stairs (ouch!), hobbling around with her foot oozing blood – and meanwhile there’s a monster in the house, and did we also mention that her waters have broken? Sometimes it’s all you can do to keep quiet.
The four guys who wrote the script for The Hurricane Heist would also have done well to keep quiet – or at least make their characters deaf-mutes, so the film could’ve kept its action mayhem and impressively extreme weather without the facepalm-inducing dialogue. “You can’t change people,” sighs older brother Breeze (Ryan Kwanten), resisting younger bro Will (Toby Kebbell)’s pleas to get out of Dodge before the hurricane hits. “Well, I’m tellin’ you, this hurricane can change people – from alive to dead!” babbles Will hilariously. “So we gotta go!”
Will is a first-rate meteorologist (we know this because his friends tell him so: “You’re a first-rate meteorologist”), but no-one listens when he claims the Storm of the Century is coming – maybe because they’re all too busy with the titular heist, taking advantage of the bad weather to rob the local US Treasury facility. ‘They’ include a craggy Irishman, a small-town sheriff, and a hacker calling herself Sasha Van Dietrich; we also have Casey (Maggie Grace), an FBI agent who was never the same “after Utah” – a misstep that got her partner killed, though maybe the hurricane can provide her redemption. “I made a bad call,” she admits, wincing at the memory.
Bad calls – albeit sometimes blissfully bad – proliferate in The Hurricane Heist, very much including the dialogue; I tried noting down every ludicrous exchange, but it’s hard to keep up. (“Hundreds of millions and a hurricane aren’t the best cocktail on the menu,” grunts a middle-aged Treasury guy; “You know all about cocktails, don’t you Moreno?” pipes up Casey light-heartedly.) The action, however, is solid, the wanton destruction enjoyable – needless to say, the storm vacuums up houses and cars like no storm in history – and the extended finale acts as a reminder that director Rob Cohen also made the original Fast and the Furious. The image of three giant trucks roaring down the highway, with Will and Breeze leaping from one to another and the hurricane (in the form of an apocalyptic black cloud) closing in behind them, is likely to stay with me long after the rest of this silly movie has faded – rather like the image of a newborn being fitted with an oxygen mask and entombed in a box (to stifle his crying) in A Quiet Place. Who needs words, when you have visuals?
A QUIET PLACE ***
DIRECTED BY John Krasinski
STARRING John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds
Mostly in sign language, with Greek subtitles.
US 2018 90 mins.
THE HURRICANE HEIST **
DIRECTED BY Rob Cohen
STARRING Toby Kebbell, Maggie Grace, Ryan Kwanten
US 2018 103 mins.