Updated: May 2, 2019
A disclaimer: I did, in the simplest terms, enjoy the movie. This was before I listened to a Q&A, or thought too hard about it.
Last Tuesday (4/3) here at good old Wesleyan, the Goldsmith Family Cinema held an advance screening of “A Quiet Place” (2018, dir. John Krasinski). The screening was followed by a Q&A with a mystery guest(s), which was what originally lured me to the screening on the off chance that the guest was the movie’s star and director John Krasinski. It was not, but the Q&A contributed just as much, if not more, to my feelings and thoughts about the film.
The screening experience was an exercise in heroism. For the two producers starring in the post-screening Q&A (silver-haired and tailored Wes alum Brad Fuller, and his scruffy, slightly Byronic counterpart Andrew Form), John Krasinski was the brains, the brawn, and the blood of the film. He starred, directed, and acted as a stand-in for the movie’s monster before the CGI was ready. The real highlight of the screening, however, was when an audience member (a hero in her own right) asked the speakers who they thought the main character of the movie was. Both of them leaned into the microphone instead of just Fuller, the clear alpha, and said that they have thought through this particular question a lot. They then considered that the movie might truly belong to Emily Blunt, but settled their answer on Millicent Simmons, who plays the deaf daughter of Krasinski’s character. Our audience hero, not surprised, then commented on how “John Krasinski got a weird amount of screen time” for the movie to be anyone else’s but his, and mused over how unnatural it was for them to suddenly claim after the fact that the daughter was the hero.
“So you liked the movie,” sardonically replied Fuller.
I do not mean to undermine Blunt’s role in elevating the film. Her silent performance carries entire sequences and serve as perhaps the film’s most striking highlights. Nor do I mean to undermine the work of Millicent Simmons. Her performance was nuanced and touching. I wished to see more of her. Revered by the speakers as a rather revolutionary concept, Krasinski insisted on hiring a deaf actress to play a deaf part. There is nothing like men acting like the bare minimum is revolutionary. Casting a hearing actor for a deaf part is the equivalent of casting a white actress to play Mulan. Nevertheless, Simmons joins Blunt as the saviors of the film.
I have referred to the characters this way (as the father, the mother, the daughter, and the son) because none of their names were mentioned during the film, and if they were, I didn’t catch them. Either way, it was clearly not important to those responsible for the film to give its characters an identity outside of the family unit. My issue here is not with the story’s exploration of a family unit as a society in itself, but rather in the archaic statements it makes about the nuclear family.
Ultimately, my main issue with the film is its dissonance about its own being. It oscillates between an actual horror movie that makes frequent use of the jump scare and a story of Krasinski’s handsome idealized heroism as he tries to create a safe and fulfilling life for his family. Here, in his character’s idealization as the male protector, is where the film strays towards misogyny.
The primitive attitude towards women that the movie holds is largely based in its images of the mother and the daughter. Krasinski’s wife in the film, played by his actual wife, is the picture of domesticity. She is shown homeschooling while Krasinski is out, presumably hunting. In this scene, Blunt kneels on the floor with the beginning of Sonnet 18 scripted on a board behind her, fully scanned. She is surrounded by her flowing skirt and haloed by her loose burnt-golden hair, resembling nothing less than a Baroque painting of an aristocratic woman distinguished by her learnedness. To top it all off, she is, of course, pregnant. Though the character’s most powerful scene is her birth scene, and the baby’s symbolism as new life and hope is almost too clear, it reinforces the stereotypical image of the patriarch performing all of the manly work while his beautiful wife carries his child, does laundry, and nurtures.
And what of her skirt? Why, pray tell, are the two female characters never wearing pants? Surely pants are more practical for a life in the wilderness. No gym teacher in their right mind would let going pantless in class off without at least a warning, a light finger wag. This air of sexist mystery is present throughout the film, such as when the daughter wants to go out hunting with her father but he refuses, instead taking her terrified younger brother. I do not want to revert to this “the girl wasn’t allowed to go hunting argument”, but as there is no good reason, I must. Is it the skirt? Does the mother say that the daughter needs to stay behind with her to help out with the house rather than go out hunting because she is wearing a skirt?
It is true that the movie resolves itself through its stepping up of the female characters’ heroism. These great moments, however, are undermined by the rest of the movie. It is also true that, as the speakers continuously reiterated, the sound engineering was an effective tool for engaging the viewer. The concept, as the speakers also continuously leaned on, was excellent. However, where the speakers claimed that all one really needs for a good horror movie is a concept, I disagree. The concept’s scariness and “wow” factor lasted maybe though the first hour of the movie, but the film’s other story elements were not developed nearly enough to keep the concept in the high position that it should be.
Ultimately, the concept is a crutch that allows the movie to leave its other important aspects incomplete, which is worse than simply neglecting them. Perhaps the movie could have alternatively benefitted from playing into its archetypes and taken a step towards an ironic self-awareness. Instead, though, it fails to add the extra layer that it seeks, leaving an air about the film that is unmistakably disingenuous and laughable.
Stephanie Ades, Spring 2018
artwork by Olivia Gracey