A Quiet Place hits this week. Get your tickets here!
A Quiet Place centers on a family struggling to survive the encroachment of evil beings by existing in complete silence, with the knowledge that any utterance at all may be their last.
It's the latest in a string of recent titles —Don't Speak, Don't Breathe, Hush, Mute, and the forthcoming The Silence among them— which lean on the primal discomfort of being unable to communicate out loud, and the film takes the burgeoning trend even further by not having just one family's speech silenced. Rather, the whole of society has been forced underground to survive this deadly incursion.
The creatures dealing all this destruction in the film could easily be swapped with a number of villains from history (and in the present day) who've "hunted" those who make noise, in the literal and figurative senses. We don't even need to see the beasts in A Quiet Place to appreciate the threat they pose. The obvious desperation of these parents to protect their children from exposing themselves and everyone else —whether by forgetting to tiptoe across the wooden floors or setting off a noisy toy— along with the utter expanse of this intrusion is stingingly reminiscent of people forced to hide during World War II. For that reason, it may be just the film we need to cope with similar anxieties about today's society, as well.
We've seen before how horror movies can astutely, if accidentally, echo a large-scale cultural angst. Consider how movies like Saw and Hostel stumbled into the so-called "torture porn" trend of the post-9/11 era, how The Purge drew from the deep-seated societal frustrations of the Occupy movement, or even how Get Out strikes such a raw nerve now with its cutting racial satire.
Similarly, A Quiet Place may well offer audiences an avenue of dealing with a creeping fear of, say, censorship or the suppression of certain sects of society.
"There is no one correct interpretation of what a movie or piece of art means. A psychoanalyst would say even the creators of these things don't know what they mean because there are other subconscious processes at work," Goldstein explained. "One could see in them, like in a Rorschach inkblot, your own various anxieties and beliefs. … You could hear someone say, 'These [films] are a metaphor for people feeling that they've lost their voice.'"
He theorizes that movies offer most audiences a rare form of control over the things we're afraid of and see in them, in addition to (usually) paying off with some kind of good-defeats-evil sense of justice in the third act that we might not get from our news feeds. So, we may be particularly drawn to and affected by movies that incorporate even the most realistically scary aspects of the world because they allow us to mentally manage what we're dealing with in everyday life.
"People go to films to feel better or to be distracted by things that otherwise would bother them. So, people would go to a film in which torture is involved or part of the theme because it's a topical issue," he said. "What's in the news will end up in a film ... and people with interest, concern, fear or anxiety about that theme will go there and use the film as a way of coping with that."
It's not as if the idea of quietude hasn't been frightening before in life and film, of course. We've all had that dream where we're frantically fleeing a madman through some danger-maze, and salvation is just ahead in the form of a small crowd of probable good samaritans … if only we could just squeeze out a cry for help. That sense of vulnerability is why Casey Becker's final gasp was so traumatizing and made the title of Scream deliciously ironic. It's why the self-silencing in Speak laid even barer the trauma of its protagonist.
A Quiet Place may be treading deeper waters than its predecessors, or at least being more obvious about it. If so, perhaps in addition to being a stunning effort from director John Krasinski, the film can also deliver some nine-dollar therapy to those who are increasingly discomfited by the political atmosphere of the present. Win-win.