With my loud ass voice, I’d be dead within seconds of this apocalypse…
I’ve always felt bad for John Krasinski. After becoming a heartthrob on The Office, the man has spent years trying to escape the shadow of Jim Halpert but keeps getting seen in wider popular culture as the quintessential nice guy. He was actually close to nabbing the role of Captain America, but failing that he went on to star in gritty action dramas like 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi to reinvent himself. Krasinski has also dabbled in directing low-key comedy dramas like The Hollars to…mediocre praise. But hey, Krasinski made a friend in Michael Bay after his stint with 13 Hours and got funding to make a horror film starring himself, his wife, and Millicent Simmons (the deaf actress from Wonderstruck). So how did he do? Read on…
So find ourselves in mid-apocalypse when a race of indestructible monsters have ravaged the Earth despite having no sight or smelling ability. What they do have is ultra-powerful hearing allowing them to detect sounds from kilometers away before tearing their target apart limb from limb. Surviving this apocalypse are the Abbotts, survivalists living in the countryside who have been able to communicate fine through this nightmare on account of the entire family knowing sign language due to the eldest daughter’s (Millicent Simmons) deafness. Emily Blunt is the mother of the clan and she’s busy getting ready to give birth any day now as well as creating a sound proof room for one of the loudest creatures on the planet. Krasinski is the patriarch trying to fashion a proper cochlear hearing aid for his daughter and trying to teach his terrified son (Noah Jupe) on how to survive in this world. But as Blunt’s character’s due date fast approaches, tension runs high in the family as they try to keep their mouths shut to avoid getting torn to shreds.
What I enjoy about this film is that it takes a frequently used concept in horror of staying perfectly quiet to avoid a killer, and crafting a film where the silence rarely ever goes away. For long stretches of time, there is no spoken dialogue at all…as a matter of fact I don’t believe there were more than 20 lines of speaking in the entire 90 minute production. Instead, we have to rely on subtitled American sign language, which itself is designed to communicate short phrases as quickly as possible. Hence the movie must rely on every filmmaking trick in the book to impart knowledge to the audience with as little words as possible. Storytelling in this matter is bold and is incredibly difficult to pull off, I can really only say Mad Max: Fury Road succeeded in that endeavor for large swathes of the film; but to John Krasinski’s credit, he manages to hit closer to the mark than many of his contemporaries.
Through well placed camera shots, effective lighting, and cleverly magnifying tiny sounds like a door creak or a glass shattering into a sonic boom, the movie places you into the world the Abbotts are trying to survive. It’s a low-budget technical achievement to elicit such stomach-churning tension with as little resources as possible, especially when the monsters are concerned. While they do utilize computer generated effects, the monsters are presented in a style evocative of classic 80’s horror of slowly revealing body part of the creature before their complete reveal later on in the final third of the film. By then, the audience is invested as to how terrifying these things are and we are genuinely concerned for our protagonists, who once again have to use body language alone to communicate their characters.
On that front, everyone from the veteran Krasinski and Blunt to the young Simmons and Jupe all turn in effective performances. Particularly Blunt when her character has to give birth and she desperately tries to keep quiet despite the pain being practically unbearable. I’ve seen countless scenes dealing with a baby being born, and yet Emily Blunt gives probably the most harrowing one I’ve ever seen on film. Krasinski does well in his role naturally, but he also doesn’t hog the spotlight and gives many of the film’s most iconic moments to all of his costars. Especially with Millicent Simmons, who apparently also taught the cast and crew how each character’s version of sign language should look and feel according to their characteristics. It’s little touches like this that really help sell the film for me.
I’m honestly hard pressed to offer major critiques of the film. It’s use of sound editing is some of the most evocative and most useful I’ve seen since last year’s Dunkirk. The film’s score slowly rears itself in subtle ways, particularly in chase sequences. And the actors are all to be commended for communicating their respective character arcs with as little dialogue as possible. On top of that, there are very few jump scares but they are used effectively to highlight the tension rather than boring you to death. Hell, even the film moves pretty quick to get to it’s balls-to-the-wall conclusion by clocking in at an even 90 minutes so the movie never outstays its welcome either.
This was a challenging film to make and there were certainly many ways it could have gone wrong, I especially remember in my Wonderstruck review lamenting that I wished for a dialogue free film that relied heavily on sights and sounds to tell its narrative. Now that I finally have it, it’s benefits are readily apparent for the world to see. And I do mean the world should check this out as soon as possible. Side note: I found out this movie was almost another Cloverfield entry and I’m so ecstatic that the filmmakers did not go down that tired route. Any references to that series would have distracted such a tightly composed work of art, and that aforementioned article just demonstrates how haphazard JJ Abrams has been with his precious marketing gimmick.
Because this is a damn fine standalone film that could easily wind up in my runner ups of the year. It’s not entirely perfect as many of the things I’ve seen here have been done before, but this film succeeds in putting everything together in an extremely well done way. So I’ll give this a strong…
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