Home > Reviews > A QUIET PLACE – Marco Beltrami

A QUIET PLACE – Marco Beltrami

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

A Quiet Place is an effective, exciting, and scary horror-thriller, directed by John Krasinski, hitherto best known as the easy-going Jim from the American version of the sitcom The Office. This film is a very different kettle of fish; it is set an indeterminate period in the future in the aftermath of an invasion by some sort of race of monsters – possibly aliens, possibly something else, it’s never quite explained. The monsters are blind but have intensely acute hearing, and attack and slaughter any living thing that makes a noise. Krasinski and his real-life wife Emily Blunt play Lee and Evelyn, a husband and wife with three children – one of whom is deaf and wears a cochlear implant – and a baby on the way. The film follows their efforts to survive – scavenging for food, maintaining their farmhouse home, and raising the children, trying to build a life in this nightmarish scenario – while all the while trying to remain utterly silent so as not to attract the monsters who roam the woods around their property.

The film is a tremendous exercise in tension and anxiety, with excellent performances by each of the four leads – the two adults, and the two oldest children, who are played by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds, and Noah Jupe from Subirbicon. Sound, or the absence of it, plays a major role in defining the tone of the film; there is virtually no spoken dialogue in the entire movie (the characters communicate through sign language), which means that all the film’s emotional drivers come from the sound effects and its score, which was written by Marco Beltrami in conjunction with ‘additional music’ composers Buck Sanders, Miles Hankins, Brandon Roberts, and Marcus Trumpp.

Before I go any further, I have to make a very clear distinction here between the music as heard in the film, and the music as heard as a standalone album because, in the film, the music works like gangbusters. Beltrami’s eerie, insistent, sometimes overwhelmingly dissonant music ratchets up the tension a thousand fold; whether it’s a simple scene of the family walking along the disused railroad tracks through the woods, or reacting to faraway bumps in the night, the music allows the viewer to live inside the skin of the characters, feel their constant wariness, hear the thump of a heartbeat in their chest, or see them freeze in their tracks, trying not to make a murmur. Then, when one or other of them comes face-to-face with one of these ghastly beasts, Beltrami is there, making his orchestra scream bloody murder as the creature crawls up your stairs to where you are hiding, or accompanying your desperate sprint for your life with rampaging string ostinatos.

If I wanted to be kind, that could and should be the end of the review. But, unfortunately, the music also exists as a separate product which can be purchased and experienced apart from the film, and that’s where the problems start. As good as the music is in context – and, again, let me reiterate, it is very good – the soundtrack listening experience verges on aural torture. Truthfully, I don’t think I have the technical vocabulary to describe exactly what Beltrami is doing here. I’m sure there are a great number of complicated things going on – extended techniques in the strings, unusual ways of phrasing the brass, layers of carefully crafted electronic sound design, intricate and dense percussion patterns – but when I hear music like this, separated from its picture, my brain goes into survival mode and reacts with little more than basic onomatopoeias, giving me words like screech and scream, crash and smash and thump, drone and whine. Almost every cue in the score features a passage of music that sounds like the musicians are doing something unnatural, abusing their instruments in abominable ways. I think of talented violinists like Belinda Broughton and Julie Gigante, who are lovely in real life, but who here as part of Beltrami’s orchestra are straining to make their strings twist out these agonizing, blood-curdling chords.

Having established that more than 75% of the score is made up of these hideous sonic explosions, let me go ahead and point out some things that are actually quite cool, from an intellectual and technical standpoint. Astonishingly, there is a main theme of sorts, although it’s more of a motif than a melody. It’s a 5-note idea that appears to be performed on a de-tuned and possibly mistreated piano, and it acts as Beltrami’s depiction of the family’s daily life, and their endless struggle for survival. You first hear it at 2:10 of the opening cue, “It Hears You,” and in several subsequent cues, where it mostly plays like a badly-damaged folk/country tune, with off-key pianos and what might be a broken slide guitar or a cimbalom emerging from a bed of solemn, but consonant strings.

Cues like “A Quiet Family,” the soothing “A Quiet Life,” “The Dinner Table,” “Babyproofing,” and “A Quiet Moment” offer glimpses of what the family used to be – wholesome, all-American farming folk – but also how much their lives have been shattered in the aftermath of the monster apocalypse. In cues such as “Bonfire” and the unexpectedly lovely “Kids Bonfire” the music briefly becomes calm, almost gentle, and although the actual musical content is limited to little more than some basic shifting string chords and piano harmonies, they come across like oases of beauty in what is otherwise an emotional desert.

The rest of the music is all about tension, suspense, and moments of outright horror. There is a secondary motif that appears in scenes where the monsters are in very close proximity to the protagonists, and which was clearly inspired by Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score for Sicario (I’m guessing it was heavily present in the temp track). Several cues feature the distorted descending brass motif that has now become strongly associated with that film; it can be heard prominently in the opening “It Hears You,” in parts of “Something on the Roof,” embedded into the otherwise gruesome “Old Man,” in “Water in the Basement,” and in the shocking, demonically insane “Rising Pulse.”

There are also a few moments of especially intense writing where the percussion picks up and runs away with a vivid action ostinato, notably during the final moments of “It Hears You,” but the best of them is the one that appears in “Labor Intensive,” which underscores the terrifying scene where Emily Blunt’s character is giving birth in her bathroom, but has to do so in complete silence because there’s a monster in her kitchen, and then coming up her stairs. Here, Beltrami ratchets up the tension to almost unbearable levels – the ‘Sicario’ motif is everywhere – until the whole thing explodes into a furious, churning cello ostinato of stunning power, accompanying John Krasinski’s character as he sprints across his farmyard to get to his wife before the monster does. This motif, which first kicks in at 6:11, is heard several times during the film’s finale, and at the beginning of the end credits suite, but only appears on the soundtrack this one brief time, which is greatly frustrating and disappointing.

In the conclusive pair, “All Together Now” and “Positive Feedback,” Beltrami lets rip with absolutely everything he has – it’s all horror, all the time. These cues feature some especially brutal performances of the Monster motif, pitted against numerous interjections from the Family motif, including one quite fascinating explosion of noise at 4:26 of “All Together Now” which appears to be a re-working of the Family motif in action-horror mode, a cacophony of blaring brass. One other moment which took me completely by surprise was the guttural, animalistic grinding noise the strings make during the last 40 seconds of the aforementioned “Labor Intensive,” which really have to be heard to be believed.

I often wonder what purpose soundtrack albums like A Quiet Place serve. I suppose that, from a musicology point of view, it’s interesting to try to dissect the score, figure out what all the instruments are doing, and how Beltrami came up with these intensely disturbing collisions of sound. That’s basically what I have done here. But beyond that, I can’t for the life of me figure out what anyone else would get out of it: it’s not an especially fun listening experience, there are no themes to speak of that you can take away, and the most interesting piece of recurring rhythmic intensity isn’t even on the CD very much. It’s just 45 minutes of dark, savage noise, a brutal barrage that rips your eardrums to shreds, just like the monsters do to the unwary. Unless you are one of those aforementioned musicologists, or have a penchant for auditory masochism, my advice would be to save yourself the suffering that comes with listening to it alone and simply experience A Quiet Place in the film, where it’s supposed to be, and where it excels in achieving its contextual aims.

Buy the A Quiet Place soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • It Hears You (4:28)
  • A Quiet Family (1:58)
  • Children of the Corn (1:24)
  • A Quiet Life (2:58)
  • The Dinner Table (1:46)
  • Something on the Roof (2:13)
  • Babyproofing/Bonfire (2:55)
  • Old Man (3:09)
  • Labor Intensive (8:13)
  • Kids Bonfire (1:36)
  • Water in the Basement (3:24)
  • Silo Attack (1:46)
  • A Quiet Moment (1:13)
  • Rising Pulse (4:14)
  • All Together Now (5:24)
  • Positive Feedback (1:28)

Running Time: 48 minutes 17 seconds

Milan Records (2018)

Music composed by Marco Beltrami. Conducted by Pete Anthony. Orchestrations by Pete Anthony, Rossano Galante, Mark Graham, Gregory Jamrok, Jon Kull and Dana Niu. Additional music by Buck Sanders, Miles Hankins, Brandon Roberts and Marcus Trumpp. Recorded and mixed by Tyson Lozensky. Edited by Jim Schultz. Album produced by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders.

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  1. Edmund Meinerts
    April 13, 2018 at 1:28 am

    I actually wonder if this film needed a score at all. I haven’t seen it (and don’t plan to), but it strikes me that its concept might have been better-served by silence, the better to highlight the significance of every tiny sound. And considering how difficult the score is away from picture, it seems to me like a rather unnecessary endeavor all round…

  1. July 22, 2018 at 6:30 pm

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