Perhaps the most impressive thing about A Quiet Place’s jump scares is how telegraphed they are. At first glance, this is no different from a typical horror movie. A telegraphed jump scare is common thing, after all, although in other films one is typically preceded by the absence of sound, a moment of silent assessment on the behalf of the protagonist that's quickly violated by a reaching hand or a slack, dead face that suddenly looms large. Orchestral strings twinge and, in response, we instinctively recoil. A Quiet Place takes that formula and tweaks it, turning the entire film into a prolonged quiet moment in which the protagonists, and by proxy the viewers, are tensely listening.
Nearly every jump scare in A Quiet Place is preceded by the sound of simple human need: a child who wants to play with a noisy toy, the biological necessity of a mother going into labor, the simple mistake of clumsily knocking over an object. Rather than the usual formula of silence followed by a murderous violation, A Quiet Place’s jump scares precede the formula with a human sound, then force the audience to wait for the fallout, because make no mistake: If they hear you, they will come for you. The film’s scares become more effective because they are so avoidable, but to avoid them would be so ... inhuman. Every act of humanity in the film is responded to with harsh, abrupt violence to the point that each jump scare feels like it's violating not only the viewer’s sense of safety, as is so often the case, but also the humanity of its lead characters.
This simple system makes the film’s jump scares so effective because the Abbotts (and the one other, lone survivor they meet in their travels) are their own undoing. There is a personal level to every scare, less so because we want the Abbotts to simply survive and more because we want them to thrive as people. A Quiet Place’s most heart-wrenching moment comes when its patriarch is at his most vulnerable, sacrificing himself to save his children, but not before reassuring Regan that he loves her despite her secretly handing Beau the toy that would inevitably end his life -- something she has never been able to cope with. Lee's reward for his vulnerability is a fatal encounter with one of the creatures.
Every jump scare in A Quiet Place is that much more meaningful because of how harshly it stifles the denizens of its world, a world in which every sharp, alien chitter or searching thump from upstairs is preceded by human expression. If the jump scare was designed to violate anything, that might be the most sinister of them all.
In theaters nationwide, A Quiet Place is co-written and directed John Krasinski, who stars alongside Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe, Millicent Simmonds and Cade Woodward.
KEEP READING: A Quiet Place Ends With An Ear Toward A Sequel