In horror movies, sound is an incredibly important element because it helps to set the tone of the film and adds suspense and tension to the plot. In most horror movies, silence makes the audience anticipate a jump scare or big reveal – one reason why horror movies continue to terrify audiences and why people continue to love them. Sound has the power to shake us to our core and characters’ blood curdling screams can give us a fright, or at least let us know that danger is coming. Some horror movies have iconic soundtracks that contribute greatly to the impact of the film’s scare factor and sound plays a significant role in any horror movie.
Horror franchise A Quiet Place is unique because it uses sound differently to most horror movies. The film, directed by John Krasinski and starring his wife Emily Blunt, is about a family of five struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by blind monsters with an acute sense of hearing. Any sound will attract a monster and put them at risk because of the monsters’ ultra-sensitive hearing. The daughter, Regan, is deaf and communicates with the rest of her family with American sign language (ASL), which proves to be a useful skill to have later on as they learn to survive. Her inability to hear puts her in greater danger of the monsters, but also allows her to withstand the monsters’ horrifying screeches and confront them without problem. Regan plays an integral role when it comes to defeating the monsters.
A Quiet Place is like a silent movie in many ways. Instead of depending on dialogue, it shows rather than tells. There is no narration or dialogue that explains the context of the film. Instead, the audience understands the film’s setting based on how the family lives – they keep to themselves and minimize interaction with others. Because of the monsters’ nature, they cannot make sound or else they will attract them. They tiptoe around their house and when going out in public to stock up on necessities. They communicate using ASL and only whisper if it is an absolute necessity. To understand how the monsters kill, the audience only needs to watch an attack scene where the monsters instantly attack anything that makes noise.
Due to the film’s premise, the soundtrack is filled with everyday noises you might encounter when taking a walk-in nature such as leaves crunching, footsteps and the wind blowing. However, these familiar noises are exaggerated at times and tweaked to show how quiet the scene really is and how one sharp sound can ring out and catch the attention of any monster lurking. In the case that a character accidentally makes a loud sound, the entrance of the monster in the scene is enough to be a jump scare for the audience. The way that the monster interrupts the previously silent atmosphere is a loud shock, adding tension and excitement to the scene. This kind of sound design makes the film a very immersive experience for the audience, who feel like they are a part of the characters’ lives and journeys as they try to survive.
The sound designers Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn deserve a lot of credit for creating such a tense atmosphere that worked brilliantly in the film. When developing the soundtrack for A Quiet Place, the designers remarked that every time something became too loud, someone immediately shouted “Dead!” to signify that a character would have been killed in that world. Aadahl and Van der Ryn reverse-engineered the process – they started with silence and only added in specific sounds when needed. As a result, small noises sounded explosive against such a quiet background. Audiences are not used to witnessing such a stripped-down environment when watching a horror film, so it keeps them on the edge of their seat. This also makes them an active participant of the film – they anticipate the next moment of tension along with the characters on screen. The audience even experiences what the characters do through the sound design and camera work. For example, when Regan’s cochlear implant (that functions as a hearing aid) turns off, there is a deafening, total silence and we see things from her perspective.
The brilliance of the sound design in A Quiet Place and its sequel have helped to establish it as one of the most outstanding horror movies of the 21st century. While most horror films make use of sound and music to scare audiences, A Quiet Place instead uses silence to create a tense atmosphere that will have every audience member anticipating what will happen next. The monsters are terrifying enough, but when you add the sound and soundtrack to the mix which makes the experience more immersive, A Quiet Place becomes truly terrifying.
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