Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: John Krasinski
Writer: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, John Krasinski
Producer: Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller
Stars: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cade Woodward, Leon Russom
An isolated family struggles to survive in silence against a devastated landscape overrun by creatures attracted to sound.
While walking up to the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas for the SXSW premiere of “A Quiet Place,” I overheard more than one shout of, “it’s Jim from ‘The Office’!” directed toward the media mobbed step-and-repeat. For those who still can’t shake their association of John Krasinski with a comedic character he previously played on TV, “A Quiet Place” exists to reshape the predominant perception of him into that of a creatively confident director armed with a full battery of accomplished filmmaking skills.
Krasinski claimed, “I’ve never been a genre guy” in front of the debut screening’s audience, although you’d never guess it if he didn’t say it. Hoity-toity horror fans may dismiss the movie on the grounds of it being a polished Paramount Pictures production manufactured and marketed for multiplex mass consumption. But “A Quiet Place’s” uncomplicated premise unshackles it to impress as a smartly crafted, slickly executed crowd-pleaser packed with straight shooting suspense and terrifically terrifying thrills.
The simple setup starts in 2020 and takes place across just three days. The days aren’t consecutive though. Three months into an apocalyptic event that has blind creatures savagely slaughtering anyone making any noise above a whisper, tragedy befalls Lee and Evelyn Abbott when their number of children unexpectedly reduces by one.
Fast-forward about three years. Evelyn has a new baby about to burst from her belly. This isn’t a time for celebration however. This is a time for survival, which Lee and Evelyn have become accustomed to doing with their deaf daughter Regan and young son Marcus on the isolated farm where they subsist in strict silence. Events over the next 48 hours put their hard fought skills and close-knit bonds in a pressure cooker, as the creatures threaten to tear apart the Abbott family figuratively before doing it literally.
I generally loath this kind of comparison, but “A Quiet Place” is to a ‘predator stalking prey’ plot what “The Strangers” (review here) is to home invasion horror. By that I mean the movie presents its particular template using streamlined staging to emerge as an exemplary achievement in its specific subgenre. It may not be revelatory, but applying fresh takes to familiar formulas makes for stylishly cinematic storytelling.
Kinetic chills consist almost entirely of jump scares, yet each one comes from an authentic action as opposed to a sudden hand on a shoulder or cat springing from a shadow. The very nature of unseen creatures attacking without warning lays the foundation for organically grown frights. They work a seesaw with deep character development to compellingly exploit emotional investment in tandem with sudden shocks.
Anxiety-choked atmosphere complements visceral jolts. While moments categorized above are designed to catch the audience off guard, camera positions cleverly set other stages so viewers can breathlessly anticipate dangers that characters cannot see. This turns on a second tract of highly effective suspense for maximizing audience engagement.
Throughout everything, Marco Beltrami’s pulse-pounding score earns a guilty verdict for relying heavily on the type of low bass “bwaaah!” stings heard in every horror movie trailer. At the same time, it’s impossible to argue that Beltrami’s music isn’t appropriately employed to wring every last drop of auditory ambiance from each scene.
Respecting its material as more meaningful than mere motivation for monster mayhem allows “A Quiet Place” to mine underlying maturity. Themes of strained interpersonal relationships and parental fears nestle comfortably around action without feeling forced or false. Not only does co-writer and director John Krasinski demonstrate his talent for tuning tone, but his experience as an actor primes him to precisely adjust each emotional dial with carefully measured performances.
Despite being tasked to convey almost all information using physicality and sign language, the core cast never overcompensates for their lack of dialogue. As evidenced in “Mute” (review here), it can be tempting for a silent actor to lean too much on unbelievably elastic mouths or cartoonishly popping eyeballs. No one does that here. Emily Blunt in particular stands out with her incredible ability to convey exhaustion, desperation, resilience, or affection using only subtle alterations to her expression. Through the collective acting of Blunt, Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, and Noah Jupe, the audience genuinely comes to both care for and fear for their fictional family.
“A Quiet Place” has broad appeal as a contemporary creature feature that would play perfectly at a drive-in, except with sincere family drama that similar films in previous eras didn’t possess. Strong in story, direction, characterization, and suspense, the film qualifies to compete with the best hold-your-breath thrillers on the basis of pure entertainment value alone.
Review Score: 90