You don’t realize how much you take sound for granted until it’s gone.
Set in a near-future where the slightest noise could kill you, star John Krasinski’s third directorial effort, A Quiet Place, creates an immersive, unsettling viewing experience that will change the way you watch a movie — just as it changed the way Krasinski and his collaborators made one.
“I think the crew thought it was a silent movie, so they said, ‘oh, we can make as much noise as we want, because they’ll just edit it out,'” Krasinski tells IGN, explaining that in reality, the film’s lack of dialogue is used to heighten the diegetic background sounds that would usually be lost under a character’s lines or the soundtrack. “So it was really fun to see these incredible crew members moving trucks and cables and all that stuff just stop dead, frozen. It was like the red light, green light game.”
In the end, a lot of the ambient noise — like footsteps on sand and the hum of nature — was recorded practically while filming, before being amplified in post-production, along with the horrifying sounds of the near-indestructible creatures that are now hunting humanity, which are blind but attracted by noise. This strategy helps turn the film’s few sounds into a weapon that can be used to shock the audience, sometimes when you least expect it.
“I knew sound would be a major character in the movie, and we needed to lean into it fully. But your ideas of what is possible are blown up exponentially when you get into the post process,” Krasinski says. “When you’re sitting there at that mixing board with these incredible designers, and you’re just playing with it, then it becomes, how far can you go? We had so much fun… Because the truth is, we very rarely in this world, especially with how busy everyone is and the social media, get to just stop and listen anymore. So, we thought, wouldn’t it be cool to force an audience to actually stop and listen and hear what the wood sounds like, and hear what the corn sounds like?”
Emily Blunt, Krasinski’s co-star and real-life wife, explains that they hoped to create a truly sensory experience with the film, which was borne out at the premiere screening at South by Southwest, with the tension so high in some scenes that you could’ve heard a pin drop, as if everyone in the audience was collectively holding their breath.
“The idea of people just not wanting to move very much, the idea of people feeling they were in a virtual reality, in some sense, with the film… that’s ultimately what we wanted,” she says. “I know John wanted to create an experience, even more than he wanted to create a film, and it felt like that [at the premiere]. I love that people laughed, because they were so [tense] — they needed a release!”
While Krasinski says he always hoped the film would have that kind of impact on viewers — to the point where one audience member at an early test screening revealed that he snuck a bag of Skittles in but never dared open them because he was so paranoid about making noise — the director admits, “I always knew what I wanted to do, but you don’t realize the impact until you put it in front of people.”
Despite appearances (and crew assumptions), A Quiet Place isn’t a totally silent movie; the film does rely on a traditional score, and while I noted in my review that it would’ve been interesting to see what the film played like without musical cues, Krasinski has a good reason for maintaining at least some of the soundtrack (although he didn’t rule out trying it on the director’s cut).
“I never thought about cutting out music entirely. There was way more music that was delivered, for sure. But in my opinion, there’s a threshold that you can push people, and what I wanted to do is make sure that people had some familiarity with movies from before, so it didn’t feel like an experiment,” he says. “I wanted people to feel a cinematic experience, which, the score is… it’s almost like a narrator of the movie. It’s not telling you what’s happening, it’s just there with you. But, that said, I didn’t want the score to be wall to wall. So when we started pulling music out, it was so much more impactful. But I think if we pulled music out completely, then all of a sudden people are like, ‘what is this? Is this like a silence experiment?'”
Blunt admits that the lack of dialogue proved liberating, while also serving as a subtextual allegory for what this troubled family is going through.
“I’ve always been someone who’s enjoyed scripts that are more spare, because I think it’s more interesting. It makes people lean in a bit more. Often the scripts which are celebrated at the awards are the scripts that are very dialogue, talky-heavy, which is ultimately not necessarily how people converse and how people live. And I think the unspoken is just fascinating to watch on a big screen. The camera can see every nuance on your face, and I discovered that over the years that it can be really arresting to not do as much,” she explains. “And the reason it worked in this film is that this is a family that desperately need to communicate, to overcome the horror of what they have experienced, continue to experience. The fractured relationships, the need for forgiveness, the need for affirmation… None can be delivered to each other. And so the tension that comes with that, in the scenes between us all, was so much fun to play with.”
A Quiet Place creeps into theaters on April 6. Read our full review of A Quiet Place here.