[This first appeared at The Jagged Word on April 14.]
First of all, if you haven’t gotten Movie Pass yet, what are you waiting for? If you sign up on the website, it’s only $6.95 a month, and if you see even one movie a month, it pays for itself. (Just make sure that it covers theaters in your area. It didn’t cover Wenatchee for a long time.)
My first Movie Pass movie was A Quiet Place, which has been generating a lot of buzz recently. It’s a film that confirms my view that horror movies can do things that other, straighforwardly narrative movies can’t do. In some ways it’s like a new song that you feel like you’ve heard a hundred times—or, if you haven’t heard it before, you wonder how no one ever produced this exact melody before. Post-apocalyptic movies have been done a thousand times. Monster movies have been done a thousand times. The fear of the unknown has fueled a thousand plots. And yet, A Quiet Place doesn’t feel like a cliché. It feels familiar, but it also feels new.
In trying to place the familiarity of the film, I thought of another recent family drama set in a horror context, It Comes at Night, which I wrote about here. Both are about families struggling to survive in a changed and terrifying world. Both involve fathers doing everything they can to protect their families. But A Quiet Place is, beyond those surface similarities, actually the reverse of It Comes at Night. In the latter, the fear of what is out there tears apart the family at the center of the story. In the former, it strengthens and confirms the bonds of the family, even though tragedy (already in the first ten minutes) threatens to pull them apart.
The films have different points, and so their conclusions are different. It Comes at Night focuses on the unknown fear of “it” out there; in A Quiet Place, the threat is also out there, but it is a known threat, from which they retreat into the quiet place they’ve created. In It Comes at Night, the father is the source of the distrust that enters and unravels his family’s safety and security. In A Quiet Place, the father is the source of the family’s safety and security, even when his actions are misunderstood or distrusted. In It Comes at Night, the father sacrifices his family to his suspicions. In A Quiet Place, the father sacrifices himself for the sake of his family.
And this highlights what is both most familiar and most foreign to our current cultural moment: A Quiet Place depicts a family in which each member has his or her own strengths, and each contributes to the security and strength of the family as a whole. But the father is not the mother and the mother is not the father. The son is not the daughter and the daughter is not the son. How strange it seems to see a mother telling her son that he has to go with his father so that the son can learn how to protect the family; how strange to see a wife telling her husband that he must protect their children at all costs, and then he actually does it. In these ways and more, A Quiet Place has more in common with Take Shelter than it does with It Comes at Night.
I can hardly believe I haven’t seen any macro-aggressed, triggered reviewers calling out A Quiet Place and John Krasinski for defending some sort of antiquated, patriarchal notions about fatherhood, motherhood, and the family (knock on wood; someone at Buzzfeed or Jezebel is even now writing that exact piece). I wonder if these “traditional” themes in the context of a very modern horror with impressive CGI effects are what many of the reviewers are feeling when they talk about how A Quiet Place has so many horror tropes, and yet it feels fresh and unexpected.
Various people have indeed mentioned how ridiculous it is to have a child in such a situation. Of course, that ridicule reflects cultural sentiments in the real world about having children. Sure, it’s a narrative device to increase the tension, but it’s also hopeful and (at the risk of sounding trite) affirming of life itself as a significant and worthwhile good, no matter what the world looks like.
Christians have always recognized both the risk and the reward of children, in spite of a world that is often hostile toward both children and Christianity. Children are a blessing from God, full stop, and the reality of a dangerous world doesn’t change that. This is yet another point at which this film runs counter to what is assumed to be common sense and wisdom.
A Quiet Place deserves to have a place as a classic horror film. Like other classic stories, it can be enjoyed on multiple levels, regardless of one’s opinions, beliefs, or cultural positions. At the same time, what makes it a classic are precisely those layers that can apply more deeply or more superficially, depending on one’s assumptions. My Movie Pass is likely to be used to see A Quiet Place for a second time [or I would have if they hadn’t limited it to a single viewing of each movie].