*** out of ****
(for terror and some bloody images)
Released: April 6, 2018
Runtime: 90 minutes
Directed by: John Krasinski
Starring: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe
The best genre stories parallel issues in the real world, and A Quiet Place is a cleverly considered metaphor about parental anxieties. So naturally, it’s a horror film.
Yes, it’s a parable about the struggle to protect children from dangers and terrors, but it’s also about the responsibility to prepare your kids to face those dangers on their own. It packs a slow-burn wallop, and even the slow in that burn is laced with tension.
Along with resonant symbolism, the best genre stories also fashion a simple, brilliant conceit, and the hook here is an inspired doozy. In a near-future post apocalypse, one created by a rampaging species of creatures that dispense of their prey with quick, violent force, the few remaining humans take refuge with one primary tactic: staying utterly quiet.
The creatures have a hyper-sonic sensitivity. They attack anything that emits even the most commonplace sounds. Only the faintest noises go undetected, unless a creature is nearby.
We experience this world through the isolated filter of one rural upstate New York family, a husband and wife with a tween girl, two boys, and (eventually) a fourth on the way. (Yes, the inevitable labor scene becomes a centerpiece at the halfway mark.)
With a vow of silence taken out of necessity, there’s almost no talking. Most of the film, then, is effectively a silent one in form, at least narratively, communicating story through visual and action, punctuated by sound design. The daughter is deaf, however, so the family’s familiarity with sign language is an adaptive advantage.
A Quiet Place is a sharp, surprising departure for director and star John Krasinski (The Office). His previous directorial efforts were an experimental dud and a family dysfunction dramedy stacked deep with Sundance clichés.
Here, Krasinski isn’t an instant savant of suspense; his sense of style is basic, not extending too far beyond genre fundamentals, and he leans a bit too heavily (and often) into jump scares. As the film crescendos, the “bwwwaaaaaahh” of an ominously droning music score also becomes a crutch.
Lapses of logic and minor contrivances occasionally pop up, too, as do obvious questions about possible solutions that are never quite adequately answered.
And yet, it’s the virtues of Krasinki’s restraint that make A Quiet Place effective, even distinguished.
An insecure filmmaker would be trying to crib and cram in every technique possible; Krasinski is astutely economical. He’s also not afraid to stay true to the premise, to the extended quiet of it, even to a degree that may test the patience of as many viewers as it fascinates.
There has to be an integrity to the world that’s built here or the payoffs won’t, well, payoff. But there is, and they do.
The fidelity to that concept helps create an entirely different atmosphere than what we’re accustomed to from horror films, but it creates an existence that’s the equivalent to walking on eggshells, maintaining and building that ever-present dread we want.
This meditative milieu also allows for an even greater emphasis on character and family. More than giving-a-go at horror, it’s those two aspects that are clearly the draw for Krasinski, both as director and actor. (He also did a rewrite pass on the original script by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, likely imbuing key family moments with his own language and tone.)
His co-star Emily Blunt (probably the best actress working today without an Oscar nomination to her resumé) also happens to be his real-life wife, with whom he has two children, which makes the dynamic here all-the-more authentic. What might appear to be a savvy career shift is, more purely, a very personal endeavor and expression.
Not that A Quiet Place is without its horror set pieces. They’re there, they’re ingenious in their specificity, and Krasinski stages them with a confident visual eye and auditory ear.
The peril is life and death, the line between the two fragile, yet often the decisions to be made aren’t simply ones of skill or cunning but patience and trust. That makes every choice more morally and emotionally nerve-racking.
The creature design is also an unexpected strength. At a point in culture when movie monsters often seem a dime-a-dozen, the one here has the potential to be iconic.
A Quiet Place isn’t quite a genre game-changer (one imagines an even better version of this if done by M. Night Shyamalan in his heyday), but its singular premise makes it stand out across the movie-going landscape. It’s a little gem destined to live on and find new audiences through an “Oh, you’ve gotta see it” evergreen identity.
The thrills it promises and delivers on are the easy sell, but it’s the heart that sticks with you, especially in the strained friction between Krasinski’s dad and his deaf daughter Regan who yearns to be seen by her father for her courage rather than her handicap.
My favorite moments are between them, and Millicent Simmonds, the actually-deaf actress from one of 2017’s underseen best Wonderstruck, may have the film’s most openly raw emotional journey. You want to hug her and empower her in equal measure.
Where this all lands requires something of everyone. A taut yet tender thriller, A Quiet Place isn’t just a parable about anxieties but also sacrifices, capped by a final moment that, when it cuts to credits, will have you nodding with “Aw hell yeah” satisfaction.