A Quiet Place

In what may be both a first and only occurrence for Trailaurality, this week we are looking at and listening to a trailer that is arguably most notable for its complete absence of music – or, at least, what we typically identify as music. The track, "Silent Killer," comes courtesy of composer Alec Johnson, of Hybrid Core Music + Sound.

An American supernatural horror film directed by John Krasinski, A Quiet Place stars Krasinski and spouse Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada), and is set to premiere in a few short weeks at the upcoming South by Southwest festival.

In the first seven seconds the audioviewer is bombarded with a multitude of media sounds, including tuning radio dials, television white noise, and the like.

After the Paramount title card, we do get a few synthesizer notes, but literally only a few: a dissonant gesture fades away, revealing a steady and unsettling heart beat beneath. This is repeated for the first cue card (“those who have survived”), and again at 0:27 (“live by one rule”). Most notably, there is zero presence of any diegetic sound or music in any of the shots thus far.

By 0:35 we hear something we rarely hear in today’s world of bombast and epic music – practically nothing at all. Then, at 0:42 we hear the child’s toy space shuttle, with its low-fi escalating tones; a child has transgressed the new Golden Rule: will he have to pay? The onscreen sound smoothly transitions to a more sweeping wash of noise, finally punctuated by a percussive hit in tandem with the release title card (April 6).

From here, the tension ramps up considerably; waves of synthesizer wash over the film as the action intensifies, with occasional sound, such as the car window breaking, piercing the veil of the non-diegetic aural narrative.

Finally, after an arresting scrape of a waterphone, we return to the heartbeats of earlier. A few precious moments of quietude pass, following by a jump scare at 1:12 in tandem with the return of the menacing synth.

After the most visceral round of percussion yet, it’s jarring to hear the first line of dialogue at 1:26, sounding weak, pleading, and at the total mercy of whatever it is that haunts them. Here the turn line sounds earlier than usual in trailers and has narrative significance, even in her hushed voice.

The last few shots before the title card at 1:44 feature a full-bore aural kaleidoscope of horror tropes – jittery, escalating strings, creeping synths, and the like, punctuated by, of course, a scream.

While the trailer A Quiet Place leans on some well-tested techniques for eliciting a sense of horror, that which makes it unusual, or at least novel, among horror films is its unwavering belief in accomplishing more with less. A single jump scare and a single scream suffice, as the trailer wisely spends its time building up to these moments with enormous dynamic range. Coming from the sound of practically nothing to moments that more typically fit the sonic profile of a modern horror trailer, it speaks to the power of absence to unnerve us, especially in an age of unceasing sensory stimulation.


– Curtis Perry