A Quiet Place

While I’m going to highly recommend that you see this film, I’m really only going to tell you that its got an interesting story about a family surviving monsters, and that it’s well done. There are much more important experiences that make this film worth seeing than the story itself.

Right off the bat here, one of the experiences — perhaps the only one really story focused — is that the first scenes take place on day 89. By this point, the film’s creatures have pretty much overrun the world and our family has marked it as the 89th day. Whether that’s the 89th day of their ordeal or since the creatures’ first appearance is never explained. It’s a rare treat to be thrust in situ; as you’re all too well aware, most films, especially the first in a franchise, usually do some exposition before you really find yourself in the film. Not so with A Quiet Place. Right from the start, you’re in it with them.

Next up, as you might guess from the trailers, a small child puts the family in a bad situation. What isn’t obvious from them, is that that’s pretty much right at the start of the film, and despite the father’s best effort, there was just no saving that child. The film didn’t shy away from it, and it only occasionally reminded you of how much that loss hurt the family, but I applaud the film door not backing out of it or allowing the heroics to pull off a miracle. Deus ex machina was no where to be found. Thank you.

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But the biggest and most important of the film’s experiences was the use of sound and silence. It’s so very easy to take sound in film and television for granted; even I tend to think of the sounds heard in them as just a part of the natural filming process, that the sounds we hear were the sounds present when the filming was being done. That’s me, a guy with a degree in film analysis, that has had classes on silent films and early films with sound. A guy that has done sound recording on short film projects and knows how difficult it can be to edit films and trying to make sure sounds match across footage. I can’t imagine that most people stand a chance at realizing how much work goes into a film’s sound design!

What A Quiet Place does so well is emphasize sounds we take for granted in films and make them stand out. How often do you think about your footsteps as you walk across the room? How many feet can you walk across a wooden floor before you hear a floorboard creak? How often do you even pay attention to the sound of crickets outside your window? Did you hear the sound of the dried leaf you just stepped on? These are all things you become obsessively aware of in A Quiet Place, and the only two other films I can think of that put such an emphasis on sound are Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic M and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation in 1974. My questions above are all directly relevant to the film because they are all things that you become aware of while watching this film, and you — well *I* — become aware of the artificial nature of the sound in the movie, the fact that every little noise was either intentionally engineered into the set design, left in on purpose to add unexpected character, or, far more often, deliberately added in or removed during post-production. Most of the time, you don’t hear the crickets in the film, except when the film is trying to accentuate how quiet the characters are attempting to be. During the entirety of the movie, despite seeing them walk on leaves, you never hear one crunch. The floors have places to step painted on them to minimize the creaking noises, which implies the family put a great deal of effort into finding out exactly where you can step. Even the use of verbal dialogue in the film is minimized. So much is said not only in sign language, but though body language. Even when there’s no subtitles, you know exactly what the characters are thinking.

So, if you’re missing the point, you should sit down, put on your favorite film, and watch 30 minutes of it with the sound muted. Then unmute it and marvel in the fact that someone, more likely than not, spent days or weeks listening to every single second of that film, gradually adding layer upon layer of sound, music, white noise to make it seem natural. Natural to the point that you didn’t even notice how many other sounds were likely missing, such as the hum of the electric lights, or the periodic hiss of an air conditioner or heater. Mentally thank them for composing the auditory reality of your film. Because sound and its absence are key players we fail to pay attention to unless it’s pointed out by films like A Quiet Place and a certain scene in The Last Jedi.

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