Saturday, April 14, 2018


When I was a kid I would clench my teeth during tense scenes because I thought I'd bite the tip of my tongue off at a sudden scare. In this film if you make a sound you will be torn to pieces by an alien monster and eaten. My tongue started pressing against my top row of teeth and stayed there for a little over ninety minutes.

The Abbotts are surviving the invasion of the sound-triggered monsters with an advantage. Their daughter, Regan, is near deaf and they already could communicate in sign language. We see the consequences of not keeping to this rule early and it's nasty. From that point the moments of relief or more procedural narrative feel surrounded by danger. We need no reminder of this in a film whose dialogue is almost entirely silent and whose human sound we are constantly measuring against nature's lest the balance be ruptured. This, apart from anything else, is one of the most suspenseful family dramas I've ever seen.

Well, it is about family. There's favouritism, adolescent rebellion, miscommunication and conciliation but this is woven into the constant sense of hazard that threatens violent death ... so it never gets soapy. It also never gets easy. There's the stress of survival and the frustration of information poverty about the situation. The farm where they live is surrounded by cornfields through which cut paths of silent white sand. At night they play board games with cloth pieces and when the chance for the occasional two step presents itself with a pair of shared earbuds. And there's a pregnancy near term. Oh, and an exposed nail on a step in the basement.

We are observing a delicate scale that shifts between how to survive and what for which is tough enough until you remove not just the customary means of communication but also the release that loud human noise can deliver at points of stress or grief or pain (remember that nail? Well, it gets worse than you think). The despair of rolling that boulder up the hill over and over is centre screen. Is it worth it?

If I seem to be struggling to describe this film it's probably because its themes are not intended to be more remarkable than the jeopardy stretching each scene to snapping point. This is a film about tension. It is resolutely not an undeclared silent film as sound is the medium of its threat but the stress impacting its characters and their responses is dependent entirely on the cast's ability to act as though in a silent film.

Husband and wife team on and off screen John Krasinski (who also directs) and Emily Blunt credibly bring real shared parenthood to the table. Their primary focus is the children and it's not a stretch to consider the origin of this story as the anxiety created by a baby crying in public. As to the children we are given an impressively troubled teenager in Millicent Simmonds who's emotively driven judgement can cast safety by the way and Noah Jupe, the sole good thing about Suburbicon, who might not stretch his young boy coping with a weirding world but fills it believably.

Perhaps the best thing to do here is an unfair comparison. The film Descent played on the notion of the fatality of sound and effectively wasted the opportunity to compel prospective scream queens to scream silently. Was it the premise at fault there? None of the characters had to be where they were (part of the point as they were the invaders but still) and came across as bodies for the count. Here everything about life is at stake and, when really questioned might not be worth the fight.

That and the fact that when I wasn't guarding my tongue against my own teeth I was gaping and shrinking from the screen for almost all of the ninety-six minutes I was in front of it. This is cinema.

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