Never underestimate the gravity of sound. In “A Quiet Place” — from John Krasinski, who co-wrote the script, directed and stars alongside his wife, Emily Blunt — looming monsters hunt by noise, going after their prey when they hear its sound. For the farm-living Abbott family, silence is the only means of survival.
This means supervising sound editors Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn, who share two Oscar nominations, had to shape an atmosphere with maximum auditory impact. “We knew it would be a huge challenge creating this world of quiet,” Aadahl says. “It’s actually as hard if not harder than making a movie full of sound. You’re naked in a way, and everything has to be delicately balanced and perfect.”
Perspective, or what the sound team called “sonic envelopes,” played a key part in ratcheting up tension, particularly from the point of view of the daughter, who is deaf. By harnessing her inability to hear, sounds could be removed during visually intense moments to magnify the macabre. “Going into her perspective sonically allows the audience to hear what she experiences at the same time we see what’s lurking behind her. It’s an interesting dynamic,” notes Aadahl.
At times, picture even took a backseat to the sound design. Because loudness motivates the hunt, visuals needed to be cut to whatever the creatures were tuning into, says Van der Ryn. “We discovered when telling the creatures’ perspective, it needed to be clear for the audience. So for instance, when Emily Blunt’s character sets an egg timer in order to create a distraction, we needed to show the creature’s ear first, then the egg timer.”
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Rules defined what sounds were too loud or below the threshold of danger. Foley was meticulously placed, right down to sandy footsteps and eerie monster clicks, while the score carried the emotional swell. Composer Marco Beltrami “gave us a lot of wonderful music to choose from, and it was tough because we didn’t want it to interfere with the perspectives we created,” notes Van der Ryn. “The sound design is so important to the storytelling that we needed to get those beats all working correctly. Then we could add in the music to help us.”
Rerecording mixer Brandon Proctor connected music to the scary moments of the allegory. “There are a lot of jump scares in this movie, and we tried them many different ways,” Proctor says. “It was important to ask ourselves, ‘If they didn’t have music attached to them, why didn’t the creatures hear it?’”
Music also crafted the mood as it shifts from absolute silence to starkest dread. Scenes were mixed to maximize the tension aurally, either pushing up or pulling back the sensitivity of sounds to match visuals. “We were always asking where we are in the story or whose perspective we’re hearing, and do those background noises drip away in that moment,” Proctor explains. “It was an orchestra of these different ideas that created the soundscape. Sound is a tool that’s often underutilized, and this movie really proves you can do a lot more with it.”