The prophet Elijah heard the voice of God. At one of his lowest moments, when he was ready to give in to despair, God spoke to him. It was not in the earthquake or the fire, but in “a gentle whisper.” Like Elijah, the Abbott family in the new thriller A Quiet Place is in a desperate situation. Yet it is in their foreboding stillness and silence that they too find hope. A Quiet Place is a well-crafted horror film, but it is this emphasis on hope that sets the movie apart.
As director, co-screenwriter, and actor, John Krasinski (The Office) delivers an affecting horror film with a tender heart. Set in the aftermath of a devastating invasion, A Quiet Place features monsters who kill anything that makes a sound. The Abbott family has been able to survive in part because their daughter, Regan, has a hearing impairment, and so they’ve been trained to communicate through American Sign Language. (Regan is played by Millicent Simmons, who has a hearing impairment herself.) Much of the film’s suspense is built around Regan, her parents (Krasinski and Emily Blunt), and her younger siblings trying to avoid making any sound.
The film does not waste time on exposition but instead places us in the middle of this family’s reality. (Spoilers ahead.) In the opening scene, as the family is scrounging for supplies in an abandoned drug store, parents Lee and Evelyn take away a battery-powered spaceship toy from their youngest son Beau (Cade Woodward) because it is too loud. Regan secretly gives it back to him, after removing the batteries, trying to show kindness to her kid brother. But on the walk back home to the farm on which they live, Beau slips the batteries back in, turns on the toy, and is suddenly snatched by the monsters. Here the film takes on Regan's perspective, so that all we hear is a low hum as we see the lights of the toy start to blink. Regan notices the terrified face of her father as he realizes what is happening, but is helpless to stop it.
This tragedy hangs over the rest of the film, and in fact may be part of the reason Lee and Evelyn, some time later, decide to have another child. Giving birth and raising a baby without making sound is a daunting prospect. When the time comes, this creates some of the movie’s most nail-biting moments.
An emphasis on hope sets A Quiet Place apart.
In addition to suspense, the filmmakers also use sound to build on the heart of A Quiet Place, especially as we watch this family trying to build some kind of meaningful, daily life. Early on, they sit down for a silent dinner (without plates or silverware), taking a moment to hold hands and bow their heads in prayer. Later, we see Lee searching for radio signals. Evelyn walks in and they have a tender moment in which they listen to Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” through shared earbuds. The music swells as they sway gently back and forth. In that moment they get to be a married couple. The horror and pain of their reality briefly fades away. Lee and his other son Marcus (Noah Jupe) have a similar experience at a waterfall, where the rushing water is so loud they can speak without fear of being attacked. They are able to have a real conversation for the first time in a year or so. These quiet moments build an emotional intimacy that lays a foundation for the rest of the film.
One of the most significant relationships in the film is between Lee and Regan. Regan carries the weight of her brother’s death and believes that her father blames her for what happened. Lee struggles to connect with her, desperately trying to repair her cochlear implant so that she might be able to hear. One of the movie’s clever touches is the way this implant, while a marker of Regan’s limitations, is transformed into a tool for the family’s liberation.
Although the Abbotts constantly live in fear, at the heart of their existence is a deep hope. A family in this situation would not choose to have a baby unless their most basic instinct is hope, born from love. It reminded me of the hope at the heart of the Taize community in France, in the midst of World War II. Roger Schütz, known as Brother Roger, formed a community of Christians grounded in hope and committed to peace. A Taize understanding of Christian hope would be this: “Hoping, then, means first of all discovering in the depths of the present a Life that leads forward and that nothing is able to stop. It also means welcoming this Life by a yes spoken by our whole being. As we embark on this Life, we are led to create signs of a different future here and now, in the midst of the difficulties of the world, seeds of renewal that will bear fruit when the time comes.” The Taize community lives out this hope through silent reflection and contemplative prayer. Like Elijah, they encounter God’s voice—the source of their hope—in the quiet.
Although they face imagined horrors, the Abbotts also choose to meet a world of despair with a hope grounded in love. The tender moments between family members, the gestures of love, are seeds planted in silence, a promise of a future for this family and the world. We too can be overwhelmed by the noise and chaos of the world. A Quiet Place reminds us that if we are willing to embrace those still, small moments, we might hear God’s “gentle whisper” inviting us to plant seeds of renewal.