The setting is ominous: a dungeon, perhaps, or a dark wood. Not one where the wary or cowardly tread, that's for sure. The heroes, Genre Savvy as they are, ready themselves for an enemy attack that could come at any moment. After all, there MUST be danger nearby...right. It seems safe for now, though...or is it?
Someone has to break the silence, and only one line will do: "It's quiet...too quiet."
This trope describes any moment in a narrative where the action has hit a low point, when anyone who's paying attention would notice that a Random Encounter could, or should, appear at any instant. Fairly often something will happen within a minute, which will lead another character to say "You Just Had to Say It".
When you start to suspect something is about to happen because the narrative is too positive, rather than too uneventful, that's a Hope Spot.
The Stock Phrase itself is long since discredited and made fun of so often it can now be considered a Dead Horse Trope. Exception is made if it is lampshaded by adding in a sign on WHAT is quiet, e.g. "Why have all the forest noises stopped?" the answer usually being "the Monster of the Week killed/drove away all the wildlife". Compare We're Being Watched.
Compare Nothing Is Scarier.
Often happens when the Jungle Drums stop.
At least partially Truth in Television; in forests and crowded cities, there's always stuff making noise - insects, birds, etc...unless they're hiding from something.
"Speaking of trouble, we should have run into some by now. You know, a guard, a booby trap..." *his torch is blown out leaving only complete darkness* "...or an ambush."
Shrek utters this line when he and Donkey enter a deserted Kingdom of Duloc. (Everyone there has gone off to watch the tournament.)
In The Fox and the Hound, Vixey is afraid to enter a copse when she realises it's too quiet, while Todd has no such qualms and narrowly avoids falling foul of Copper, Amus' shotgun and a shitload of bear traps.
Films — Live-Action
Robert Stack says the line to Lloyd Bridges as their characters await the arrival of the Airplane!.
In Astérix Mission Cleopatre, the Egyptian architect, trapped in Cleopatra's Palace under Roman siege, utters this line as everything is silent and a tumbleweed rolls by. Right after, the Romans show up with siege engines.
"It's quiet... Too quiet... I like i better when it's a little more less quiet..."
Done in the first scene of Galaxy Quest, right before an ambush attack on Tim Allen and company.
Donatello: The perimeter's quiet. Leonardo: Yeah, a little too quiet. <they knock out the only two guards> Donatello: Well, that was easy! Leonardo: Yeah, a little too easy. <they see Raph tied up> Donatello: Look! It's Raph! Michaelangelo: Yeah, a little too Raph! <Leo hits Mikey on the head for turning it into an Overly-Long Gag> Leonardo: You guys, knock it off! Donatello:<Face Palm> Oh brother.
A variation in Lake Placid, where one character, shortly before another attack by the giant alligator, says: "I suddenly got the feeling that everything's perfectly safe".
When Native Americans who aren't slaves show up for the first time in Aguirre, the Wrath of God, the ambient sounds (birds and insects mostly) go dead. The "Emperor" makes this remark, and soon a spooked horse kicks some fire onto a gunpowder barrel.
In the movie The Marksman, the main character runs back late to the extraction point, he can clearly hear the helicopter waiting although he's still in enemy territory, he turns around frequently watching for potential pursuers, but after a while he stops, and notices no one is chasing him. He correctly assesses he and his team have been set up, and the extraction chopper is destroyed shortly after by a traitor.
While the exact words aren't used, there is a scene in Sleepy Hollow where local Young Masbath points out to city slicker Ichabod Crane how quiet the forest is, and has to explain that forests are supposed to be noisy, like crickets and birds and stuff - noises that the forest lacked at that point.
Later in the movie, during an especially dark night, one character starts freaking out because it's so quiet, and his commanding officer asks for a flare to see by...revealing that it was quiet because the Vietnamese soldiers were a couple of feet away, trying to sneak attack.
Ranger Brad: These things just don't happen! Noises? In the woods?
In the remake of Assault on Precinct 13 (2005), one character remarks that it's "awful quiet out there", and Lawrence Fishburne replies that that's what worries him.
Goldeneye. During their raid on a Soviet chemical plant, James Bond remarks to fellow agent Alec Trevelyan, "it's too easy", realizing that they've encountered zero difficulty in breaching what should be a very secure facility. of course, he's right. Not only do alarms finally start to go off once they reach an inescapable area, the whole thing is a setup to allow a cover for Trevelyan's defection.
Arachnophobia: At one point during the movie, the main characters notice that the crickets have stopped chirping. Turns out the spiders ate them all.
In KISS Meets The Phantom Of The Park, Paul Stanley remarks this, leading Ace Frehley to quip "Why didn't you say so?" and begin singing.
In The Elite Squad Baiano says this near the end. BOPE attacks moments after.
Parodied by Terry Pratchett's Discworld book Jingo, in which a soldier thinks to himself that after ten years of guerrilla warfare, nothing can be too quiet and the best part of war is the waiting (especially when you're waging war against the D'regs).
In Five Hundred Years After, one of Khaavren's guardsmen says that since most of the civilians were evacuated, Dragaera City is so quiet that the Guards aren't really needed. Khaavren asks if he's ever spent any time in the jungle, where there are dzur or dragons? The guardsman says he has. Well, if he was out in the jungle and all the birds and little critters suddenly hid or went quiet, would he feel safe? The guardsman sees Khaavren's point.
In Jerry Pournelle's Falkenberg's Legion, Falkenberg says, "Things are going well. When that happens I wonder what I've overlooked."
In Tamora Pierce's Trickster's Choice, Aly notes that the jungle animals are all quiet...however, her sneakiness and the experience of the guards thwart the subsequent ambush.
In The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks, this trope is invoked in numerous ways; wildlife of all kinds instinctively flee when they detect Solanum, the virus responsible for reanimating zombies. In areas abundant with noisy wildlife such as jungle and swamps, silence means that the undead must be close as these areas would never, ever be silent normally. In addition, heavily infested areas are found devoid of any wildlife by survivors as everything has been consumed by ghouls, so cities especially but also other areas known for constant noise, whether human or wildlife created, become jarringly and eerily silent.
Happens more often than not in The Hounds of the Morrigan. The main characters are looking for a McGuffin that, in theirs hands, will bring down the Celtic goddess of war; in hers, well... However, everytime the goddess's attention is focused somewhere, her ears absorb all the noises of the whereabouts. Therefore, she cannot spy on or attack the main characters without unwittingly creating complete silence, which promptly tips them off. Several times.
Explained and developed in The Hunger Games, particularly during the Quarter Quell. Katniss comes from a mining district and knows that when a mine canary stops singing, the air is growing foul and danger is imminent. One tribute is singing constantly. The group figure - correctly - that when she stops singing, danger is approaching them and they should get out of there.
In the Resident Evil novelizations, Leon's first clue that something is seriously wrong as he drives into Raccoon City is just how quiet the streets are. Poor Claire has it worse: being on a motorcycle, her first clue is the smell.
Tomorrow Town. The protagonists are in a "community of the future" and spend the night in a house humming with gadgetry. They wake up in the middle of the night because all the gadgets have suddenly gone dead; turns out someone decided to Cut the Juice before trying to murder them.
In Band of Brothers, O'Keefe mutters that it's "awfully quiet" while a handful of soldiers are on patrol in the German woods. Moments later, they stumble across a Nazi concentration camp.
Truth in Television as there often are no sounds anywhere around the concentration or death camps; the fires and smell and other outputs from the camp tends to drive most normal animals away. No birds singing, no animals making any noise... nothing. Those places are eerily quiet. But considering that over six million people died in those places... it's easy to see why.
Kryten: Precisely. No one can hear anything! And you know why we can't hear anything?
Kryten: Because THERE ARE NO SOUNDS TO HEAR!
Rimmer: Kryten, isn't it 'round about this time of year that your head goes back to the lab for retuning?
Lister: No, no, he's right. There's no sounds because the engines are dead. We've lost all power!
On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Quark once used this line literally. He noticed the ambient noise in his bar was 35 decibels below normal, which made him the first to realize something was wrong with his clients.
To elaborate, his clients at the time were Klingons, who tend to be hard-drinking, hard-partying and prone to starting barroom brawls. None of these things are happening. When Klingons are quiet, you know something's up.
A good twist put on it in "Doctor Who" on a couple of occasions, in that it's not that it's quiet, but the fact that it's NOT quiet that's the problem. Two excellent examples of Oh Crap moments (both courtesy of Steven Moffat) follow.
The Doctor Dances, where the Doctor is listening to a tape recording of the Empty Child, but there's a whirring flapping noise in the background.
Rose Tyler: Doctor...
The Empty Child's Voice: I'm here; can't you see me?
Rose Tyler: What's that noise?
Doctor: End of the tape. It ran out about 30 seconds ago... I sent it to its room. This is its room!
Earlier in that same episode, a boy using a typewriter to write a letter to his dad. The sounds of his typing are under the dialogue of the scene, until Nancy, the leader of these kids, points out that the boy isn't typing anymore. It's typing by itself.
"The Girl in the Fireplace", Doctor staring at a broken clock.
Doctor: Okay, now that's scary.
Reinette: You're scared of a broken clock?
Doctor: Just a bit scared, yeah. Just a tiny bit. 'Cause you see, if this clock's broken, and it's the only one in the room, then what's that ticking?
Used much straighter but minus the Stock Phrase in "Morpheus". Teal'c realizes there's something seriously wrong with the planet they're on (besides the entire village being long dead in their beds) when he notices there's no birds singing in the woods, and in fact no animal life of any kind.
Officer Reed on an episode of Adam-12: "It's almost too quiet." On a prowler call Reed and Malloy suspect is a setup to lure them into an ambush - turns out to be just the "normal" amount of quiet after all, as it was, in fact, just a prowler call.
Psi police agent Bester finds that a part of the B5 station is "just too quiet" and so this must be place where telepaths are hiding, because they suppress all their thoughts.
Earlier in the series, Commander Ivanova states that she is more comfortable when there is something going wrong. Because on Babylon 5, something is always going wrong. Thus, if everything seems to be going smoothly, it simply means you don't know what is going wrong yet.
In The Wire, McNulty says this line to his wife, speaking of their children's bedroom.
Burn Notice came at this sideways in a fourth season episode. They didn't drop the line, but Michael did notice that people weren't making eye contact, conversation was muted, they were putting food in their pockets...
Used in Primeval. While investigating a possible creature sighting on a golf course, Abby notes that it's too quiet. In this case, she's specifically referring to the absence of birdsong.
During the episode of Mash where BJ is introduced, they are changing a flat tire when a group of Koreans walk past their jeep. Suddenly Radar and Hawkeye notice that the people are no longer on the road. BJ asks what's wrong and they say that usually means they are about to be shot at by snipers. Sure enough, bullets start flying and they beat a hasty retreat, as soon as Radar finishes saluting the General's jack (It was a general's jeep they stole (to replace the one stolen from them).)
Merlin has this exchange just before the characters are ambushed:
Arthur: Quiet. Listen. Merlin: I don't hear anything. Arthur: Exactly.
A late episode of Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue has the rangers patrolling the city, and two of them independantly note that it's too quiet. Might be worth mentioning that the delivery of the lines make the dialog feel a little more natural, rather than the characters just repeating a cliche.
Supernatural. Sam is suffering hallucinations while going cold turkey after being hooked on demon blood. Suddenly he stops screaming.
Dean: You hear that?
Bobby That's a little too much nothing.
Alluded to in an early episode, Wendigo.
Dean: You hear that?
Sam: Yeah... Not even crickets.
On a couple of occasions in Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin's mother noted that when she hasn't heard from Calvin for longer than two minutes, it usually means he's getting into trouble. She was always right with her assumption.
Changeling: The Lost mentions that some Beasts come from a jungle where the only silence is when the jungle's Fae lord is on the hunt. As a result, those Beasts who escape from him prefer to live in the city. In the city, it's never quiet...
Dead Rising: This trope is what first tips Frank West off that the situation in the small Colorado town is more than what meets the eye. In his words, "It doesn't sound like civil disobedience. It's too quiet."
And, again, late in the game, commandos will show up and start slaughtering the zombies. You've gotten used to the place being full of the undead by now, so seeing it empty is eerie.
Somewhat Lampshaded in Randor Land 3 (a Super Mario World hack). Yoshi says the exact words, and later we find out that... no, there's no traps, the villain's second in command simply forgot to set any.
In Mass Effect 2, the Collector Ship mission has this vibe. The squad reaches the mission's goal without encountering any Collectors, alive or dead. One of the party members comments on this. It's a trap!
Said in House of the Dead 2, almost word for word. A later scene also has James say something similar when looking around the baddie's base: "It's like they're inviting me in..."
In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, the stunning lack of background music in the underground room with the entrance to the Pit Of 100 Trials provides a big clue as to how deathly serious that pipe in the middle of the room is.
In Dragon Age: Origins, at one point in the Dalish Elf origin, Merril mentions that all the woodland animals are silent. She speculates it's because the Darkspawn are in the area. She's right.
In Dragon Age IIMark of the Assassin, as your party searches for signs of a wyvern, it suddenly becomes very quiet.
Tallis: Wait, what happened to the birds?...Uh oh.
In Call of Duty: World at War during the mission Ring of Steel, Sgt. Reznov tells his men to be quiet when they are moving through an asylum:
Used as a device in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and, to the lesser extent, in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. When you travel cross-country, there is usually soft music in the background. When you enter dangerous area with enemies lurking about, the music fades and there is a brief moment of silence before enemies engage you and the combat music starts playing. When player reacts quickly and plays a stealthy character this can nicely increase the suspense value of stalking the enemies.
A lot of cartoons Butch Hartman seems to be involved with parodies this trope.
Xandor says it in The Herculoids episodes "Mission of the Amatons" and The Island of the Gravites".
In the Mighty Mightor episode "The Tiger Men", Tor says "I don't like it. It's too quiet tonight...I sense danger tonight." before the Tiger Men attack.
Happens twice in the 2003 Ninja Turtles cartoon. The first time it's Leo who says it, and Mikey (who spends most of the episode trying to come up with cool lines) lampshades it by wondering how Leo makes it work. Mikey says it himself a few episodes later, and immediately adds that he'd always wanted to say it.
In Weekenders when they stay in Lor's house (the house with 13 run-around brothers) after they can't stay in other houses. But they decide to leave instead when it's just too quiet.
Parodied in The Simpsons episode "Lisa's Rival", in a scene at an apiary after all the bees leave to steal Homer's sugar.
Beekeeper 1: Well, sure is quiet in here today.
Beekeeper 2: Yes, a little too quiet...if you know what I mean.
Beekeeper 1: Hmm... I'm afraid I don't.
Beekeeper 2: You see, bees usually make... a lot of noise. NO NOISE... suggests no bees.
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, "Stare Master": Fluttershy says this before she discovers that the Cutie Mark Crusaders (whom she was babysitting) had snuck out of her house.
Said by Doc in Galaxy Rangers as the team are patrolling the streets of Tortuna. Doc was probably being his usual Deadpan Snarker self with the comment, but quiet streets on a planet that puts 1700's Port Royale to shame usually does mean trouble.
In Taz-Mania, dropped into the middle of one of Wendall T Wolf's neurotic monologues: "..and then the suddenly the jungle gets quiet [insane paranoid Aside Glance] too quiet.."
Used in an episode of the original Transformers cartoon. Prowl even lampshades it by saying "Yeah, like they say in the movies, too quiet."
In Donkey Kong Country episode 'The Big Chill Out', our first peek at K.Rool's lair shows a flurry of activity and noise. (Normally on the show the hideout is quiet) The next time we see K.Rool's lair, things have mellowed out.
K.Rool: Klump...do you hear that?
Klump: Hmm...negatory, sir! It's as quiet as a gator in a purse-factory!
K.Rool:That's the point! Where are the pounding hammers? Squeaking machinery? Moaning Kritters? They're supposed to be busting their tails building my KCC-BM!
In the Animaniacs episode "Dot's Quiet Time," Dot says this line.
Dot: "Gee, it's so quiet. Too quiet. Terribly quiet. Awfully quiet."
Dot (singing): "I thought I wanted quiet, I thought I could apply it, but now that I have tried it, I'm sick and tired of quiet!"
Kraang: It is quiet. Precisely the correct amount of quiet. *is set up for a (literal) fall*
One of the Russian Holmes and Watson anecdotes goes like this.
Dr. Watson and Sir Henry Baskerville are having supper in Baskerville Hall, when they are startled by a terrible howl.
- What was that, Barrymore?
- That's the dreaded Hound of Baskervilles, sir.
Then a gut-wrenching meowing wail is heard.
- What's that, Barrymore?
- That's the Cat of Baskervilles, sir.
Eerie, bone-chilling silence follows.
- What's that now, Barrymore?
- That's the Fish of Baskervilles, sir.
This first developed from the fact that natural background noise in the wilderness will disappear when the animals making the noise are alerted to intruders. If you are in the woods, and everything suddenly goes quiet, it is a safe bet that you are not alone.
Inverted if you're hiking in bear country, in which case you being "too quiet" is more likely to get you killed, because you might unintentionally startle one into attacking.
Applies to gorillas too. There's a documentary on gorillas where the documenteers constantly cleared their throats when they thought they might be near by, because apparently it's "good manners" for gorillas to grunt constantly when approaching another troop so as not to startle them by suddenly appearing.
That probably applies with most animals, even domesticated and fairly placid ones. One of the first rules of handling horses is to make sure they don't suddenly get spooked because you've accidentally sneaked up on them, and try to avoid walking in their blind spot for the same reason.
This is actually a usable rule of thumb in counter-insurgency operations. If a street is filled with people, you're probably safe. If it isn't and it should be, you're probably about to be ambushed.
It can also be a subversion where the people have left because they know that soldiers are coming and that the insurgents will probably follow to try to blow the soldiers (and any civilians around them) up.
Many parents of young children consider "too quiet" an urgent signal to find out what the kids are up to.
In his stand up special Lock 'n Load, Denis Leary mentioned how much he missed quiet in his house with 7 and 5 year old kids, and one day when he was reading the paper enjoying a rare dose of quiet, it suddenly hit him that he hadn't seen the kids in a while. Turns out one of them was defacing his truck, and the other was giving the dog a bath. In the toilet.
In a similar fashion, many people find it worrying if others they live with are asleep and are absolutely silent. Whilst many find heavy snoring or sleep breathing annoying, it is at least a sign the person is ok.
Many people will always put music or tv on if they are home alone due to the silence being too eerie otherwise.
In 2008, the USAF held a major air exercise over Alaska, primarily to test the F-22. Observers of the exercise (220-to-0 kill ratio in the F-22s' favor, in case you were wondering) noted that the conventional "Red Force" had its usual share of radio chatter, but the F-22s had...silence. All the information was datalinked, and the only radio messages were for kills. More than one Air Force officer said that it was rather eerie.
Walk out on a USAF flightline on a rare day when no one is working and you'll have to clear your throat to make sure you still have your hearing.
Volunteer medics like St John Ambulance personnel can testify to the injunction to "never use the Q-word" as it will ALWAYS guarantee a lot of work in casualties coming in. Especially if you've just made coffee. (Trust me - I know)
A Time magazine article describes the first half of the 2013 Atlantic hurrican season as this.
Seismologists in Parkfield, California, a town where an earthquake would strike about once every 22 years, were perturbed when no earthquake occurred between the predicted window of 1985 and 1993. The reason why was because earthquakes are releases of energy from the ground, and it was probable that even more energy than normal was building up during the years the ground remained calm and would all spring up at any moment with a particularly destructive quake. This became a Subverted Trope when Parkfield finally received a quake in 2004 at normal strength. Some still worry, however, that this excess energy exists somewhere — it just wasn't used up for that tremor.