Ask a parent their greatest fear, and they’ll likely say it’s threats of harm to their children.
We worry about protecting our kids from pornography. We worry about protecting them from sexual predators. We worry about protecting them from violence. How do we preserve their innocence, secure their peace, and shield them from pain? As parents we are shaped, at least in part, by how we answer such questions. And we are judged, mostly by our conscience, by how we respond when we fail to protect them.
That universal parental fear is at the core of A Quiet Place, a new film in which a mother asks the most profoundly existential question ever directly considered in a horror movie: “Who are we if we can’t protect our children?”
Although A Quiet Place is one of the most thought-provoking movies of 2018, you may be tempted to avoid it because of a disdain for the horror genre. That’s understandable, for there are few movie genres that put out more schlock than horror. Still, there is a reason, as Mike Duran recently noted in an article for TGC, that the genre remains popular. “As Christians we should certainly exercise caution and discernment when approaching the horror genre,” Duran said. “But perhaps we might also consider how its continued popularity reflects an intuitive, God-given sense of morality, mortality, and our need to ‘kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.’”
Brief Defense of Horror
What makes horror unique is that it’s a genre based on an emotion. At the most fundamental level a film meets the qualifications for the genre if it elicits a feeling of horror—an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust. Most horror movies are content with arousing this emotion, which is why so many horror flicks are instantly forgettable. Because they have no aspiration higher than eliciting a temporary physiological response, most horror movies are forgotten as soon as the scare wears off and our blood pressure returns to normal.
In contrast, the most effective and memorable horror films are almost always spiritual allegories. As Dwight Longenecker claims, the horror genre answers the question, “How can literature and film most successfully deal with spiritual realities?”
Horror movies engage us in the psychological and spiritual drama of the encounter with evil. In horror movies the evil is not simply human frailty or the quest to overcome a stock villain. Instead the hero must face a force that is deadly, irrational, unpredictable, and purely evil. This evil wears many masks. It may be a person deformed by the experiments of a mad scientist. It may be an unimaginable monster from another world. It may be a psychopathic criminal or a madman with a murderous line of chainsaws. Whatever mask he wears, the villain represents the demonic. He is the one who makes darkness visible, and as the hero engages in the great battle, we go on the journey with him and so face the horror within.
What makes A Quiet Place so compelling is that it forces us to face the primal horror of parenting: How do we keep our children safe from the demonic forces that seek to rob them of their innocence?
Keeping Safe by Keeping Kids Quiet
A Quiet Place presents a unique twist on the typical monster movie. The story starts in media res, without an explanation of what the monsters are or what has happened to the rest of humanity. We know other people still exist, but with the one brief exception, the only people shown in the film are the members of the Abbott family—Lee, the father (played by director John Krasinski); his wife, Evelyn (played by Krasinski’s real-life wife, Emily Blunt); their tween deaf daughter, Regan (Millicent Simmonds); and their two young sons, Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward).
The Abbotts live in a barn on a remote farm and try to live as quietly as possible. They almost never speak above a whisper and exert considerable effort to avoid making even the slightest noise. The reason, we learn, is because the monsters hunt by sound. Every sound above a few decibels puts the entire family at risk of death by the always-listening predators.
Because film is a visual medium, horror movies frequently tap into our fear of the dark and the desire to hide out of sight of danger. But film is also an auditory medium, and A Quiet Place brilliantly conveys the emotional resonance of silence. Hiding in a space free of noise—literally a quiet place—is exceedingly more difficult than staying hidden from view. The movie’s portrayal of this reality, especially in a world of children, heightens the psychological tension to an almost unbearable level.
For example, when Evelyn is revealed to be in the late stages of pregnancy, I was initially awed by the courage and hope it takes to bring a child into such a dangerous world. But then I was literally struck with horror when I realized the magnitude of the nearly impossible task of keeping a baby quiet. (One partial solution Evelyn comes up with is both ingenious and claustrophobic.)
A Quiet Place has received well-deserved rave reviews. The acting and directing are superb, and the sound design is extraordinarily effective. Yet it’s this simple, ever-present allegorical theme of protecting children from the demonic that is likely to resonate with audiences.
Is It a Christian Movie?
Most reviews acknowledge the film is about parenting, but few have made the connection to the Christian spiritual realities in the film. “It is one of the most implicitly Christian movies I have seen, though no reviewer seems to have noticed,” economist and polymath Tyler Cowen says. “Think monasticism, devils, baby Moses, the unwillingness to consider abortion as an option, silos of grain, and Shyamalan’s (underrated) Signs.”
Is A Quiet Place, as Cowen claims, an implicitly Christian movie?
Before answering, I should acknowledge how I disagree with the popular approach to Christian film criticism of searching for “redemptive themes.” Too often, the “redemptive” theme discovered in secular works is nothing more than the use of a particular trope (i.e., a common or overused theme) such a “death and resurrection” (i.e., the hero comes close to death but rises to fight on) or the “Christ-figure” (i.e., where a character is said to be similar to Jesus in some, usually indirect, manner). Any moderately competent director can turn Satan into a “Christ-figure,” but that alone doesn’t give a movie a “redemptive” theme.
What then does it take for a film to be “Christian,” whether implicitly or explicitly?
As Gene Veith explains, “All distinctly Christian art must be, in some sense, about the agonizing struggle between sin and grace.” To be “Christian,” a work needs to be, directly or indirectly, about sin and grace and what Christ has to do with them.
Based on these criteria, A Quiet Place isn’t “Christian,” even if there are hints in the movie that the Abbott family is Christian. But the film represents aspects of common grace and morality that can only make sense in a world created by Jesus. The Abbots subsist on prayer and hope, never letting fear control their lives. They rely on love and forgiveness to help them in times of tragedy. They depend on love and devotion to one another to fight against the demonic. And in the end they find it’s grace and self-sacrifice that can save them. In this sense, A Quiet Place is one of the most Christian horror movie you’ll ever watch.
Viewer Discretion Notice: Although I recommend it highly, like all horror movies A Quiet Place is intended to invoke intense feelings of fear, shock, or disgust. The gore and blood is mostly kept to a minimum. In fact, the most gruesome and bloody scene—and the only time I had to look away—was when a character steps on a nail (fortunately, there is prior warning before it happens). The monsters are likewise suitably scary, and equivalent to the Alien movies. So if you have a weak constitution, this may not be the film for you. The film is rated PG-13 for (mostly) non-graphic violence. There is no swearing or nudity. In general, I’d say it’s suitable for older teens and adults, though certainly not for younger children.