|John Krasinski & Emily Blunt in A Quiet Place|
Apocalyptic tales have been a staple of movies since the 1950s. When Worlds Collide, Fail-Safe, The Omega Man, Deep Impact and The Core are just a few of the many “end of the world” stories that have exploded across the screen. Recently, two films, A Quiet Place and Bird Box, have continued this tradition. A Quiet Place was directed and co-written by John Krasinksi, of The Office and Amazon’s Jack Ryan series. The film tells the story of a couple (played by Krasinksi and his real-life wife Emily Blunt) trying to survive and keep their family together in the aftermath of an invasion of Earth by mysterious creatures. These monsters are blind, but can track their prey by sound and are lightning fast. They have killed much of Earth’s population, and the few survivors have been driven into hiding.
Lee Abbot (Krasinski) and his family struggle to live in this dangerous world, where silence is your ally, and noise is your enemy. One of the unique aspects of the story is that the characters must communicate using sign language. In the film, one of Lee’s children, his daughter Regan, is deaf and wears a cochlear implant. She is portrayed by Millicent Simonds, who is deaf in real life. She adds a layer of verisimilitude to the film, and gives a strong performance. The rest of the cast also does a nice job, mastering the difficult job of conveying much of their characters thoughts and emotions without the use of dialogue.
As a director, Krasinki manages to both use and upend the conventions of this type of tale, subverting our expectations throughout the course of the film. The backstory of the invasion is effectively illustrated by using newspaper clippings posted on the wall of the family’s hideaway, and briefly whispered conversations. There are also a couple of thrilling and suspenseful action sequences where the family must survive attacks by the creatures, using their wits and the few tools at hand. A Quiet Place is as much a story about the Abbot family and their own dynamics, as it is about surviving the invasion. While it has it's darker aspects, it does ultimately celebrate the strong spirit of humanity. A Quiet Place is a well-crafted, intelligent and often unsettling thriller.
|Sandra Bullock in Bird Box|
Bird Box is an original Netflix film that offers a different version of the apocalypse. Sandra Bullock stars as Malorie, a woman who gets caught up in an invasion of Earth by entities that, when you look at them, manifest as your worst fears, then drive you to suicide. As film opens, she’s with two children, telling them they’re about to begin a dangerous journey. We then flash back five years, to when the creatures first appeared. One of the first victims is Malorie’s sister, Jessica, who is driving her home from an appointment. Chaos ensues around the world as large numbers of people begin wreaking havoc, and killing themselves.
Malorie takes refuge in a house that is sheltering a small group of survivors. As with many end of the world stories, there’s a cross section of personality types in the home. There’s a cynical, acerbic older man (played by John Malkovich) whose wife dies helping Malorie; a naïve young woman, who like Malorie, is pregnant; a supermarket employee named Charlie and Tom, a construction worker, who has assumed de facto leadership of the group. Everyone helps to board up or blackout the windows so that no one can see outside. Charlie thinks he’s figured out how the creatures operate, and theorizes that as long as you don’t look at them, you’ll be fine. The creatures also don’t appear to be able to come indoors.
As time goes on, two things become apparent; not everyone in the house is what they seem, and not everyone who looks at the monsters kills himself or herself immediately. The creatures use some people as pawns to force others to look at them. The movie flashes back and forth between “five years ago” when the invasion first happens, and a current timeframe, when Malorie and two children (all wearing blindfolds) make a perilous journey to locate another group of survivors. Bullock is excellent in her role, but too many of the supporting characters have underwritten parts that aren’t fleshed out, despite the cast’s solid performances. The film fails to explore some of its most interesting ideas. Just how are the creatures able to use some people as lackeys? Why are birds able to sense when the creatures are nearby?
One effective idea is that we never actually see the creatures, as they appear as different things to different people. But Bird Box (based on a novel by Josh Malerman) looks to have its cake and eat it too; it wants to be a meaningful, big budget thriller, and a rock your socks B flick. The movie ends up not really succeeding at either. It’s not a bad film, and it’s watchable, just not very memorable. There’s none of the emotional resonance or intensity of A Quiet Place. Both films are ultimately worth seeing, but if you have to choose one, I’d go with the more subtle terrors of A Quiet Place. Here are links to the trailers for A Quiet Place; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2bR7NhCf_A, which is now available for streaming, and on DVD and Blu-ray and Bird Box; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2AsIXSh2xo, which is currently streaming on Netflix.