WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for director John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place, in theaters now.
Jump scares have been the bread and butter of horror movies for decades now. Predominantly the product of ‘80s slasher films, the technique is among the ultimate means of violation on the big screen, establishing danger for a protagonist while wrenching any sense of security away from the audience. A good jump scare has the power to both shatter immersion and draw the viewer in even deeper into the narrative.
They've been forced to undergo a major transformation over the past decade, however. As moviegoers’ appetites shifted from a desire for visceral frights to that of the cerebral, many began viewing the jump scare as a cheap, repetitive tactic -- the low-hanging fruit of the genre. As a result, the jump scare has had to change, finding sophistication where there originally was little. The latest example of the jump scare rebirth can be found in director John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place, which enjoys an emotional, perhaps even revolutionary, relationship with the hallowed horror trope.
A Quiet Place follows Lee (Krasinski) and Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt), a couple trying to survive in a silent world with their children Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward) in tow. In the film’s near-future vision of our world, the Earth has been overrun by sightless monsters that hunt by sound. A little environmental storytelling establishes that the creatures likely came from an asteroid, and were deemed nigh-indestructible by the United States government. Any questions about the creatures’ lethality are dashed when, in the first 10 minutes of the film, the toddler Beau is killed after activating a noisy toy spaceship.
What follows is an oppressively silent game of cat and mouse, with the Abbotts attempting to live the closest thing to a normal life while paying attention to every footfall, every utterance, knowing that even the slightest slip-up, a snapped twig or a cough, could be their undoing. The film contains precious little spoken dialogue -- the Abbotts communicate largely through sign language -- and the score is appropriately understated until the second act, when the action kicks off. The result is a film that forces audiences to become hyper-aware of every sound up to a point, but to inevitably accept the rules of this new, mute world. That tenuous balance between tension and acceptance becomes fertile ground for some of the most inventive and emotionally charged jump scares in recent memory.