A Quiet Place

“In space, no one can hear you scream.” That’s of course from Alien, but in A Quiet Place, that’d actually be beneficial. According to the IMDb summary, “Two parents do what it takes to keep their children safe in a world full of creatures hunting every sound they can hear.”

In its post-apocalyptic world, there are predatory toothy aliens about who hone in on human vocal patterns and pounce. The remaining survivors have to rely on sign language, gestures, or loud noises to drown out their vocalizing and not become targets (a much more interesting take is the Canadian convention-defying horror, Pontypool, where a zombie virus is transmitted by the English language and survivors are holed up in a radio station).

A Quiet Place employs an interesting gambit: essentially making the audience deaf to go along for the ride. Against a backdrop of pure silence, jump scares (of which there are many) are much more pronounced. Unfortunately, jump scares are garbage, the equivalent of comedians lazily dropping F-bombs for cheap laughs (Jump scares are cheap scares. A loud noise pumped into the middle of even The Sound of Music could scare an audience).

As a post-apocalyptic conceit, the premise of A Quiet Place is genius. And as an experimental exercise, it’d be a great short. At feature length, you’ll be tuning out your other senses.

There’s a scene with a two-inch nail poking up through a wooden step. It’s obvious telegraphing that a pregnant Emily Blunt will step on it. That she doesn’t cry out means that filmmakers are too locked into their stunt-premise.

Silent films (which A Quiet Place is in part) usually make up for it with creepy visuals a la The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. So without any visceral visuals, what’s left is pretty tame, dull stuff. It’s true, saying something is boring isn’t the most fine-tuned criticism to levy, but for a reviewer who sat through a documentary about Helvetica font (!) and enjoyed it…maybe it could be.

Par for the course, bloodless horror movies like this one are wildly overpraised and over-reviewed. Being gore-free gives them a veneer of critical respectability.

Let’s hope the screenwriter wasn’t paid by the word.

**1/2 (out of 5)

Summer of 84

Over at Film School Rejects they asked if we are “approaching 1980s nostalgia fatigue.” We not only approached it, we settled in and signed the lease. Summer of 84 is another exercise in warm blanket era-sentimentality, a la Stranger Things, The Goldbergs and even before, on a popular Friends episode.

When it comes to our domain, horror, the 80s were something of a Golden Age so it’s not surprising filmmakers are longing for its return (Or maybe it’s all relative. The 90s ushered in a Dark Age.)

Summer of 84’s cultural touchstones include the usual suspects — Ghostbusters, MTV, and Reagan (what’s odd is that people are always time capsule-constrained to their decades. In the 80s, this site’s authors ingested a diet rich in 70s music and film, but if our lives ended up on screen, somehow it’d all be headbands, key-tars and Goonies).

Summer of 84 features four teen friends, roughly, the fatty, the nerd, the vaguely cool one, and the delinquent, and good-natured ribbing since lost to the Age of PC.

When their suburban town is rocked by a report of missing boys, a la the John Wayne Gacy case, one member of the crew casts suspicion on the local cop. The group then does some Hardy Boys inductive reasoning to dredge up clues to get their man. Their team also includes an eye-candy babysitter (too post-pubescent to run with this baby-faced crew, but providing good female energy) and their investigative reporting features nascent camcorder technology, and the even more inevitable Spielberg name-check.

With zippy dialogue and easy camaraderie, Summer of 84 whips along solely on its considerable charms, before completely unraveling in an exasperating anti-climax and embarrassingly stupid voice-over.

Merely snipping 10 minutes from the finale would’ve done this film wonders. But Summer of 84 is the work of three directors, so they were probably drawn and quartered in narrative direction.

Write (or direct) what you know is true for any era. And you could call the spate of 80s-styled horror movies by Generation Xers wistful thinking.

*** (out of 5)