Written by: Bryan Woods & Scott Beck, John Krasinski
Directed by: John Krasinski
Starring: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, and Millicent Simmonds
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
If they can hear you, they can hunt you.
Sometimes, effective horror comes down to killer hook, and John Krasinski (alongside co-writers Bryan Woods and Scott Beck) has conjured up a fiendishly clever one in The Quiet Place. Like so much of our contemporary fiction, it envisions a post-apocalyptic landscape ravaged by time and desolation, where humanity clings to some semblance of existence. In this case, however, the undead haven’t returned to plague the living, as mankind instead finds itself stalked by mysterious creatures who hunt by sound, reducing the survivors’ lives to an especially hellish ordeal where one wrong, especially noisy move spells certain doom. It’s a premise that Krasinski mines for all its suspenseful potential throughout the duration of A Quiet Place, a relentlessly intense, honest-to-god monster movie that thrives on its ruthless propulsion and its poignant, human stakes.
Krasinski’s merciless efficiency is also of note, as few films establish a world and its stakes with the cruel economy on display in the prologue here. We watch—holding our breath with every step they take—as a family of five tip-toes through an eerily vacant wasteland reminiscent of the one glimpsed in Day of the Dead. Newspapers litter the streets, sporting melodramatic headlines: “IT’S SOUND!,” one boldly proclaims, accounting for the delicate nature of this family’s trip into a small town. A small general store is of particular interest, as the mother (Emily Blunt) raids a stash of medicine for her obviously ill son (Noah Jupe). Elsewhere, the family’s deaf daughter (Millicent Simmonds) and the youngest son (Cade Woodward) tagalong innocently enough, with the latter spying a toy rocket he’d like to take as a souvenir. Their father (Krasinski) firmly rejects the notion, indicating—via a barely audible whisper and sign language—that the toy is too noisy to carry with them.
Upon seeing her little brother’s disappointment, the older sister can’t help but sneak the rocket back into his hands on the way out of the door. At some point during their journey home, the boy fidgets with the buttons, setting off a loud siren; his family watches on in horror, knowing that the terror lurking in the forest is now inbound. Driven by pure instinct and impulse, the father drops everything in an attempt to shield his son from the inevitable, but it’s too late: the largely unseen collection of squawks and thudding footsteps violently lurches into the frame, claiming the young boy, leaving a stunned audience to gasp in disbelief. Within ten minutes, A Quiet Place goes there, effectively announcing its intentions to fuck you up if need be, not to mention casting a somber pall on the rest of the proceedings.
The rest of the tale unfolds about a year later, at which point the family has established something of a routine. With the mother now pregnant, preparations have been made for the new arrival, while the other two older children have learned to cope with life on the edge. What they haven’t quite figured out, however, is how to deal with the tragedy that still haunts them: the father toils away in a war room of sorts, where he obsesses over making contact with an outside world that never responds. Various clippings affixed to the wall continue to fill us in on the nature of the beast in question, a bird-like creature with no apparent weakness aside from blindness. While his fixation is obviously borne out of his desire to protect his children, it’s also something of a coping mechanism, one that allows him to ignore the unspoken tension pulling at the seams of this family. Even the incoming newborn feels something like a ticking time bomb capable of setting off a chain of events that could lead to everyone’s destruction.
While this has all the makings of being yet another major, endtimes bummer, Krasinski resists the urge to wallow in apocalyptic misery porn. A hushed solemnity clouds the film, finding a match in Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s subdued, twilight-soaked photography, yet Krasinski doesn’t see it as the guiding force here. Rather, A Quiet Place is a rollicking, unapologetic monster movie, one that’s been crafted with a sort of textbook precision as its director meticulously accounts for the necessary ingredients for making an effective horror film of this sort. His scope is pitched at an intimate scale, a slice-of-life approach right out of Romero’s playbook: with the larger, worldwide disaster having become a lost cause, this is a film about one family’s attempt to survive an attack from a handful of vicious creatures.
Everything flows from these intimate stakes: the prologue aside, A Quiet Place is virtually a one-location thriller that unfolds in and around the family’s house, which is nestled in an otherwise idyllic countryside. Christensen is careful to soak in the dreadful, atmospheric desolation here, capturing rows of impenetrable corn fields and the flames lit by other families in the surrounding hills, an image that should instill some sense of comfort but instead reminds you how utterly alone and distant everyone really is. Given the premise, it comes as no surprise that the proceedings unfold with a sort of tip-toeing delicacy that extends itself to Krasinski’s steady directorial hand, as he patiently escalates the terror: first come the menacing landscapes, then the monsters’ unnerving wails, followed by fleeting glimpses of the creatures themselves before he completely gazes upon the effects team’s terrific design during the climax. You’d never guess that Krasinski wasn’t a horror lifer with chops like these, and it’s sort of incredible that he doesn’t even consider himself much of a fan of the genre at all.
He’s especially masterful in wringing the central premise for all its suspense. Sound—and a lack thereof—is practically weaponized against an audience constantly nudged to the edge of its collective seats, just waiting to gasp at whatever startling noise might bring doom. Obviously, Krasinski mines this for some jolts—there’s just no resisting the urge to bludgeon viewers with at least a handful of startling (and, let’s be fair, cheap) bumps to compliment the almost deafening silence. Mercifully, though, he doesn’t lean on this approach like a crutch, and all but abandons it in favor of crafting genuine tension from the sound design. The overbearing silence has a suffocating effect, creating an almost subconscious paranoia in an audience that finds itself scanning the frame for potential disaster. Because so much of the film unfolds with a hush, every step becomes an ordeal—sometimes literally so when one character walks barefoot in the presence of an exposed, rusty nail.
On that note: don’t let the PG-13 rating fool you—A Quiet Place packs a visceral punch to complement its tension. One particularly harrowing sequence (let’s just say it involves childbirth) is destined to become that scene that everyone will immediately recall when discussing this film. Krasinski isn’t afraid to let the audience squirm in this regards too, and rightfully so—a movie as intense as A Quiet Place deserves some bite to back up its bark, and he sprinkles in just enough grisliness to back up the threat he’s established. By the time it reaches its climax, A Quiet Place assumes its final form as an exciting creature feature packed with increasingly perilous situations involving grain silos and flooded basements stalked by a bloodthirsty monster.
You’re tempted to assume A Quiet Place abandons whatever pretenses it has once it arrives at this point, but Krasinski’s exactness in delivering the expected monster movie beats only highlights how remarkably gripping the film is. Without the benefit of any sustained, spoken dialogue, this cast deftly paints a portrait of a family on the edge in more ways than one. Haunted by their grief—and the heartbreaking possibility that they’ll never be the same—they persist almost as a husk of themselves. Even the two children carry the weight of this awful world on their shoulders, with Simmonds proving to be especially astounding as a girl desperately seeking her father’s forgiveness and love.
While each family member is afforded their own thread, the daughter’s arc (which also involves her father’s attempt to provide a more reliable hearing aid) guides the film, ultimately providing the hefty thematic underpinning. Krasinski and company are tangibly invested in these fragile family dynamics, so much so that the film earns an obvious subtext in its resounding silence: this is a film haunted by unspoken grief and tension that boils to the surface, eventually forcing a devastated father’s anguished howl to speak the volumes his words can never reach. What’s perhaps most impressive here is that none of this feels overwrought: A Quiet Place finds its gentle humanity in small moments leading up to its stirring climax without resorting to melodramatic overtures.
Thankfully, it also doesn’t follow tired impulse to submit to the grim potential of the apocalypse. Obviously, no one would consider A Quiet Place an outright fun experience (particularly for parents being subjected to their worst fucking nightmare); however, it’s not completely soaked in misery, either. I can’t stress enough what a relief this is, as we’re spared the worn-out platitudes about a hopeless world given over to a sociopathic distrust among strangers. If anything, this is a rejoinder against the pessimism that’s defined this genre, as A Quiet Place reaffirms mankind’s capacity to endure in spite of the odds. To that end, it’s more preoccupied with delivering rousing, monster movie thrills, rafting them here upon the compelling undercurrent of a family’s battle with its own grief.
I’ll stop short of considering it a complete allegory, preferring instead to consider it the platonic ideal of this sort of thing: you come for the sound design gimmick but stay for a damn fine monster movie loaded with an irresistible premise, kick-ass creatures, absorbing characters, and something to say along the way.
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