It’s way past midnight, and I find myself soundlessly watching ‘A Quiet Place’ on Amazon Prime Video. The taut, ominously silent horror-thriller has a novel albeit one-note premise. It revolves around a family comprising a good-looking couple, Lee (John Krasinski) and Evelyn (Emily Blunt), trying to protect their children from monstrously ugly aliens that kill anybody who makes the slightest sound.
I recommend the film with a warning: Your hand may not come unstuck from the popcorn in the scary moments that abruptly raise their head, though the crisp narrative exhorts you to rely on your imagination for the back story. A few of the pivotal characters (there are only five in all, six if you include a one-day baby) lose their lives for not heeding the ‘sound’ advice of the man of the house.
Millicent Simmonds, a hearing-impaired American teen actress who plays the deaf daughter, Regan, is an actor with a promising trajectory. Regan’s fractured relationship with her father is established deftly with non-verbal cues; Millicent relies heavily on her evocative eyes. Krasinski nails it (pun intended, watch the film to figure why I say so) in his dual capacity of actor-director. When Evelyn delivers a baby in the film, my biggest dread is: What if the baby bawls?
The film stays with me long after I finished viewing it. And it sets me thinking about what is it that we enjoy so much about horror films that we are willing to subject ourselves to waking up in the middle of the night bathed in cold sweat.
To begin with, the concept of an alien attacking anybody that makes a sound is novel; and with just the right amount of creep factor. And novelty is all-important in a genre that has already been exploited by hundreds of storytellers.
Honestly, the totally soundless initial seven minutes of A Quiet Place left my nerves frazzled. So much so that the music score came as a temporary relief. An effective blend of mystifying silence and pulse-pounding music is crcial to a good horror film. While music director Marco Beltrami does a masterful job of creating eerie sounds in AQP, I wonder if in this instance, given the nature of the plot, the absence of music would have been more effective.
Also of paramount importance is to have a central character whom you root for. By a strange coincidence, just a week ago I met Bollywood horror master, Vikram Bhatt, who told me, “If you notice carefully, my horror films are essentially loved stories.” Did ‘A Quiet Place’ qualify as a love story? Yes. The protagonist, Lee, is hell-bent on protecting his wife Evelyn and three kids at all cost. He dotes on his hearing-impaired daughter and to save her throws himself into the jaws of the monster, literally. While splatters of blood and gore are an inescapable genre cliche, a gripping horror film is characterised by how well calculated is the escalation of tension. From the opening scene, A Quiet Place plunges you into a world of fear and from there on you are on a roller coaster. And once one on this giddy roller coaster you have no choice but to scream your way till the trip ends. A Quiet Place hurtles you into deep recesses of primal fear at the drop of a pin. When the pregnant Evelyn’s water bag bursts, she rushes to seek refuge in the soundproof basement and inadvertently steps over a protruding nail that sinks deep into her foot and compels her to scream — a costly slip because while trying to escape the monster, the children fall into a granary and begin sinking in the grains.
Earlier horror films culminated in the annihilation of the killer and a denouement that offered hope. Not any more. I remember being shocked by ‘The Reincarnation Of Peter Proud’- the climax of the film springs a jolt and you realise this nightmare is far from over. Today, the sequel-hungry modern cinematic universe favours open-ended tales. In ‘A Quiet Place’, the nightmare doesn’t end with the death of a single monster — you see a couple of other monsters rushing in while the daughter-mother have found a weapon to counter them. In a clever touch, is left to the viewer’s conjecture whether they succeed in their mission or not.
Cinematography assumes the role of a character in a horror film. In this post-apocalyptic thriller, splendorous locations like a gurgling waterfall, a sun-dappled farmhouse set amidst golden fields, make the wait for the lurking peril to break the precarious lull even more excruciating. Since the family is living in fear 24×7, cinematographer Christeen relies on tight close-ups to capture the sense of relentless dread. Whether it was the black-and-white ‘Woh Kaun Thi’ about a Ms Mystery who lives in a graveyard; reincarnation sagas like Mahal, Madhumati, Mehbooba, Kudrat; Ram Gopal Verma’s horrorfests ‘Raat’ and ‘Bhoot’ or Vikram Bhatt’s ‘Raaz’ that was a nod to the legendary character Savitri who brought her husband back from the dead; each of Hindi cinema’s seminal horror films blended horror with humanism. And A Quiet Place satisfyingly managed that fine balance too. My wife Anita had planned to stay at my daughter Nikita’s house the night I saw ‘A Quiet Place’. But she returned home to my pleasant surprise … actually, I confess, more to my relief. After watching a good scare-athon, I don’t want to be in a quiet place; not for the next 72 hours at least.