Over the past few years, the definition of an “Oscar movie” has been changing quite significantly. Not so long ago, there was a very specific kind of movie that was deemed appropriate for major Oscar consideration. Sure every now and then something like The Lord of the Rings or Moulin Rogue! would sneak in there, but by and large straight, grounded dramas were the name of the game. That resulted in many fine films getting recognized, but also many fine films getting left on the sidelines.
The paradigm shift began in 2009 when, after the shocking snubbing of The Dark Knight the year before, the Academy expanded the Best Picture category to 10 nominees. Suddenly you had sci-fi films like District 9 and Avatar nominated alongside the standard fare like Up in the Air. More recently the definition of an “Oscar movie” has evolved even further to allow masterful works in genre territory like Mad Max: Fury Road, Arrival, and Get Out to not only score recognition but also some major wins. And of course this past year, the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars went to a fantasy film about a woman falling in love with a fish man: The Shape of Water.
Which brings me to A Quiet Place. Filmmaker John Krasinski’s horror thriller just enjoyed an astounding opening weekend at the box office boosted by stellar reviews, but this isn’t just a flash in the pan. A Quiet Place is a thrilling ride to be sure, but it’s also phenomenal storytelling—the kind that should absolutely be under consideration for Hollywood’s top prize.
The conceit of A Quiet Place makes it unique right off the bat: The film takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth where monsters have decimated humanity’s population. The twist is that the monsters are blind and hunt only using sound, so A Quiet Place follows a family of four with a baby on the way in a series of scenes that have almost no verbal dialogue. They communicate using sign language, and there are a couple of key scenes in which words are spoken, but by and large this is a silent film.
Instead of seeing this as a crutch, Krasinski takes this premise and runs with it, crafting a downright terrifying and surprisingly moving story from beginning to end. The film doesn’t bother itself with too much exposition and there’s no prologue that explains the mythology behind the creatures. We don’t need it because the actors are so good, and Krasinski’s visual storytelling is so precise that the audience becomes invested in the well-being of these characters right away.
A Quiet Place actually has quite a bit in common with an Oscar winner from last year that many deemed “not an Oscar movie”: Get Out. With that film, writer/director Jordan Peele used the genre of horror to tell a story about race that spoke to the world we live in today. With A Quiet Place, Krasinski does something similar. He uses the hallmarks of a monster movie, and all the tension therein, to tell a story about family, loss, and parenthood, and what one would do to ensure the safety of one’s child.
It’s this that makes the movie truly special, and that elevates it beyond just a great thrill ride. A Quiet Place is a profoundly emotional viewing experience, one in which each look of terror on Emily Blunt’s face registers on multiple levels. Yes, something scary’s about to happen and the audience is primed to jump, but also we care so deeply about this family and feel so strongly like we know them that we can’t bear to watch anything bad happen to them. It goes beyond simple jump scares; everything that happens in the movie has emotional weight because Krasinski has laid the groundwork scene by scene. He paces the film perfectly, knowing when to release tension and when to ratchet things up, but coming away from the movie what’s felt most deeply are the emotional beats.
It’s incredibly early in the awards race right now, but A Quiet Place should absolutely be in the Best Picture conversation. It’s one of the best films of the year, full-stop, and what Krasinski manages to pull off takes tremendous skill. On that note, Krasinski’s work as a director here should not be overlooked. There are so many bad versions of this movie that could have been made, and why A Quiet Place turned out as well as it did has a lot to do with Krasinski’s choices behind the camera.
But the script by Krasinski, Bryan Woods, and Scott Beck also shouldn’t be overlooked. The economy of storytelling here is really incredible, and a reminder that great screenplays aren’t only made up of dialogue. And then there’s Blunt’s performance, which is right on par with her very best work. The expressiveness of her face speaks volumes without uttering a word.
Perhaps the film’s best shot at Oscar recognition is in the sound categories, as sound plays such a vital role in the film. It seems like a shoo-in for a Best Sound Editing nomination already.
Again, this is a long way out and who knows how crowded the Oscar field will be come December, but Paramount would do well to play this one smart and push A Quiet Place hard on the awards circuit. It’s certainly deserving, and as Get Out and The Shape of Water prove, the definition of an “Oscar movie” has shifted, hopefully permanently, to include all kinds of films. With any luck, A Quiet Place won’t be forgotten.