A Quiet Place, Jim and the Smell of Home

John Krasinski’s third directorial outing and first genre film, A QUIET PLACE, has taken America by storm. The survival horror film, focusing on a family living in fear of someTHING in a post apocalyptic Adirondack mountains setting, has been able to suspend disbelief with Middle Americans. Making over $50 million in its opening weekend, it becomes the first original horror movie to reach this summit and continues the trend of well made horror films dominating the screen. I’ve seen the film twice since it opened last Thursday. My second viewing was on a Tuesday evening. Each time the theater was packed. And silent. You could hear every bag crinkle, cough and sniffle for 90 minutes.

This seems to be the most common statement a person makes after seeing A QUIET PLACE, now being heralded as the movie that made Millennials shut up in the theater. But there’s much more to this film than this superficial indicator. The film’s story is simple, which allows for basic understanding by the masses inhabiting Middle America. As is the case in most horror films, we establish the rules early on. Much like last year’s IT, the first incident our family encounters lays the foundation that all bets are off and nobody is safe. Unlike IT, which is a well made and entertaining movie but is missing something (like a second half?), A QUIET PLACE pays off in spades.

Like any good horror story there are rules. In this case, they are a titular establishment. A QUIET PLACE indicates sound will be an element and play a key role in the story and it’s the story that propels this film. Screen writers Bryan Wood and Scott Beck, with a little help from Krasinski, keep it simple and stupid. They don’t waste a moment of screen time, either. Each and every thing that happens on screen is for a reason. Some of it is blatant foreshadowing, some is little moments of character development. No matter what a scene establishes, all of it moves the narrative along at a brisk pace. The trailers for A QUIET PLACE are misleading. This is not a slow burn.

There’s also the “Jim Factor.” John Krasinski’s long time role on TV’s THE OFFICE has made him a darling among the Amy Schumer-something female demographic. He’s everyone’s favorite guy. No attempt to hide Jim works for Krasinski. He’s like an action figure. Give him a beard, he’s still Jim with a beard. Stick him in a war movie (13 HOURS), he’s still Jim, with a gun. Make him angry on screen, he’s still Jim, being angry. In this movie, we get to see Jim as a loving Dad and husband at the end of the world. The natural chemistry he has with his wife, Emily Blunt, on screen also contributes to this movie’s success. She’s no Pam, thank God. Quite honestly, everyone hates Pam for dicking Jim around for the better part of a decade. The young actors playing their children are also outstanding. The entire cast contributes to making this believable.

For me it was more than a sense of familiarity with Jim. It was a feeling of home. I’d like to welcome the rest of America to upstate New York. I’ve called it my home most of the past 50 years. There have been a few times I’ve left for extended periods of time, all of them paid for by Uncle Sam and the United States Army. Missouri, Indiana and Arkansas were nice, but they weren’t New York. They smelled different. The flora and fauna was different. Even the weather. As a teenage in boot camp in Missouri I witnessed my first storm coming across the plains. It resembled a demonic gateway to another dimension, floating in space in the distance, lightning erupting from its black, clouded heart. Of course it wasn’t a rift in time and space, it was an illusion created by the horizon. Locals assumed I’d never seen such a spectacle before because I came from the big city of New York. That wasn’t the case. Where I grew up had mountains. Up until this point in my life, I’d never seen a horizon except on water.

There’s something about upstate New York. It’s rolling hills, its corn fields and cow pastures. We’re blessed with two mountain ranges. Our mountains aren’t your traditional mountains. They’re lower peaked than the high, snow-covered points of the Rocky’s, more like hills in the grand scheme of things. The southern tier’s Catskills are a spur of the range that includes the Poconos of Pennsylvania and the Berkshires of Massachusetts. The Castkills are one of the most commercialized mountain ranges in the country and densely populated to the point where they are nearly a suburb of New York City. Further north, our claim to fame becomes the world famous Adirondack range. Where as most mountains are formed when two plates crash together, the ADKs (as we call them) were formed when a massive glacier ground down a massive volcanic dome over a few million years. As a result, beach sand is as prolific in the Adirondacks as clay earth is in the foothills close to the mountains.

Nestled in the heart of the river valleys surrounding the Adirondacks lies the small town of Little Falls, NY, where much of A QUIET PLACE was filmed. Like most small towns in New York, it’s felt the economic crunch most of New York has been under the past few decades. Many businesses have closed over the years as people have made a mass exodus from the harsh winters and humid summers, leaving brown fields scattered about the terrain. These temperature extremes bring about distinct scents, many of which change with the seasons. Spring, for example, smells of mud and pollen. Summers are a cornucopia of aromas. Rust and mildew mixed with mowed grass, corn and cow shit. Fall brings the distinct scent of dead leaves. By winter, the combined odors of vehicle exhaust and salt are so thick you can taste them.

I made a similar comparison to Ted Geohagen’s WE ARE STILL HERE three years ago, filmed in Palmyra, NY. Geohagen’s follow up, MOHAWK, was similarly filmed in Highland forest near the towns of Tully and Fabius, NY – no more than a twenty minute drive from my house. POTTERSVILLE, last year’s Netflix Bigfoot comedy featuring Michael Shannon, was filmed in Hamilton, NY. Now, with A QUIET PLACE, the rest of America is finally seeing how beautiful upstate New York is.

Much like the under appreciated BOOK OF ELI, a movie that utilized sound as a factor in its story, A QUIET PLACE is a unique film you should enjoy in a theatrical setting, wherein a complete sensory experience awaits you. You’ll smell and taste this film as much as you see it and hear it. When a good movie is made, the public will follow, and man have they followed this movie. After the award winning success of genre films GET OUT and THE SHAPE OF WATER, A QUIET PLACE stands firmly on my short list of Oscar contenders for 2019.

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