A Quiet Place (2018)
written by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, and John Krasinski
from a story by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck
directed by John Krasinski
Bird Box (2018)
written by Eric Heisserer
based on novel Bird Box by Josh Malerman
directed by Susanne Bier
We’re in the middle of not only a deadly pandemic, but a whole slew of other problems that are pretty catastrophic, including global warming, food and water scarcity, habitat loss, lack of adequate public health, poverty, inequality, and plenty more. So naturally that got me thinking about the impending apocalypse.
Some of the most memorable apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic movies end in despair. No matter how much the heroes accomplish, the dystopia around them is ultimately too powerful to defeat. Going back in time can’t stop the virus from annihilating humanity in12 Monkeys (1995). The end-of-the-world visions in Take Shelter (2011) become a reality. The monsters are eventually vanquished in The Mist (2007), but not before an anguished father kills his son in order to spare him a worse fate. And in the upcoming Agent Orange (2020) Donald Trump wins the election again to destroy what little is left of the United States.
That last one is a joke. Maybe.
However, most doomsday films leave us with a glimmer of hope. Humans, for all their faults, persevere and create new institutions. In The Terminator (1984), the killer android is destroyed, ensuring a future resistance leader will be born. A cataclysm wipes out billions in 2012 (2009), but the ones left alive set sail for Africa to start anew. And a tyrannical despot is vanquished in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), potentially allowing for a more just and compassionate future.
Belonging to this latest batch are two recent horror movies in which lethal creatures overrun the world, and the few that survive do so by taking advantage of their enemy’s weakness. In the case of A Quiet Place, the antagonists are extraterrestrials with a keen sense of hearing; the only way not to be eaten is to be silent. The Abbot family, led by father Lee (John Krasinsky, in his directorial debut) and mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt), lead a tranquil existence in an isolated farm. But as the movie opens, they lose their four-year-old son to one of the aliens. Cut to one year later, and we see Evelyn is pregnant and about to give birth to a new child. Yeah, because one of the things responsible parents do in a world where monsters attack anything that makes noise is have a fucking baby.
I almost turned A Quiet Place off at that point, but I kept on going and found it to be a pretty nifty little thriller all the same. The scary moments are well choreographed, acting uniformly good, and special effects solid. It’s not a deep movie by any stretch of the imagination, but as high-concept flicks go, not bad at all. Ironically, I would probably like it more if it were a little quieter.
Bird Box is a different, yet similar, experience. The threat this time is more abstract: A supernatural presence that, when seen, drives people to kill themselves. Here the tool for survival hinges not on noiselessness, but on keeping your eyes closed. The main character is Malorie (Sandra Bullock), a woman who tries to save her son and an orphan girl from the ghostly menace. The pacing is slower and the mood darker, aided by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ eerie score. But the first half is filled with undeveloped characters and silly exposition straight out of a lesser Stephen King short story. It is not until director Susanne Bier concentrates fully on Malorie and the kids that Bird Box takes flight.
This brings me to Children of Men (2006), one of my favorite efforts in the post-apocalyptic genre. In that film, humans can no longer reproduce, and the conservation of the species rests on the first woman to get pregnant in 18 years. Likewise, motherhood plays an integral role in A Quiet Place and Bird Box. Both films feature strong female characters who will do anything for their children, and end with the heroines momentarily victorious: Evelyn, empowered with the knowledge of how to kill the aliens, pumps a shotgun before the screen goes black; Malorie and her family reach safety and she smiles as the young ones go off to play. It is here that the two movies resonate beyond their genre trappings and find their own particular sense of optimism. Even in the middle of horror and death, life goes on. The children laugh. There’s hope for tomorrow.
A Quiet Place (2018) – Rating: **½
Bird Box (2018) – Rating: **½
Carlos I. Cuevas