John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place is a no-nonsense, nerve-shredder—the best kind when it comes to thrillers. It is a tight thrill ride—the kind that quickens the heart rate and plays with the expectations of the audience. In other words, it’s a really good horror movie.
The movie is a no-nonsense, designed to make you participate in a game of tension and not just a passive observer in an unfolding horror. The film generates a free-floating dread out of the fact that almost every sound a character makes is potentially deadly.
It opens on Day 89 of a mysterious invasion. With his script, co-written by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, Krasinski wastes no time. A picturesque main street in upstate New York lies abandoned with an eerie, bombed-out vibe that comes from pure zombie-movie dystopia. In this dead set-up, you find a family, poking around the shadowy crannies of an empty grocery store. We find Krasinski, the noble bearded father, and his reel and real wife, Emily Blunt, along with their three children. Noah Jupe (Suburbicon), Millicent Simmonds (Wonderstruck), and Cade Woodward play the three children. The eldest, the girl, is deaf (as is the remarkable young actress, Millicent Simmonds who plays her). Though they look normal, you see that everyone is barefoot, (and remains so throughout the film), communicating only through deaf sign language.
We quickly discern that sound in this world is dangerous. That danger is intensified in a sequence where the youngest child finds a toy that makes noise, and things don’t end well thereafter. The bulk of A Quiet Place takes place over a year later, as the family continues to grieve and the mother is about 38 weeks pregnant. Preparing for the arrival of a newborn baby in a world without noise is difficult, and the father continues to pore over newspaper articles and research, looking for a way to stop the creatures that kill at the slightest sound.
A little later in the film, the family is shown to be at a remote farm, surrounded by the green hues of corn husks and lights that stretch out across the field. That’s where the story’s real star comes to the foreground: Millicent Simmonds gives another marvellously subtle performance. Here, she’s at odds with her protective father, who insists she remains at home with her pregnant mother while he takes her younger brother into the woods to hone his survival skills. Simmonds’ character won’t have it, and her mounting desire to take control of the family’s situation sets the stage for a series of gesticulation-filled confrontations. Aside from hushed exchanges in basements and behind the roar of a waterfall, A Quiet Place owes much to its actors’ wordless investment in this tricky material. Blunt, Krasinski, and Jupe all contribute credible intensity to their scenes with a degree of sophistication rare for this type of material.
Larger-than-life enemies that can detect their prey have been a part of great cinema for years, (from the xenomorph in Alien to the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park), and Krasinski knows that lineage. He very smartly brings about the viewer into this auditory game, setting up regular, what could be called 'auditory expectations.' We see a shotgun or an exposed nail in the floor or a timer in silence, and we know full well what sounds those are likely to produce. These are very subtle, clever storytelling tools used to build tension when a director and his co-screenwriters aren’t allowed to use dialogue to do so.
It feels like every shot has been considered incredibly carefully as the film ticks like a clock on a bomb, perfectly balancing scares with scenes that set up the emotional stakes and the world of these characters. It does not rely on shaky camerawork for horror storytelling and has got a refined visual language that plays beautifully with perspective and the terrifying nature of a world in which we can’t yell to warn or find people. Or, in the case, of the deaf daughter who can’t hear what’s coming.
It is the film’s core theme of empowerment that really elevates the final act. It has one of the best final shots in horror in years and, of course, it comes with a familiar auditory cue that has the audience cheering. With almost no dialogue, A Quiet Place relies a great deal on visual storytelling, although it does use the crutches of composer Marco Beltrami's strings for jump scares.
Krasinski has crafted a movie that demands to be seen on the big screen, with an audience as terrified as you. Horror is an easy genre to make crass, full of pretty girls screeching and people doing stupid things. But this one is completely inverted. Screeching would lead to death, whereas the whole point is for characters not to do anything stupid. For Krasinski, A Quiet Place marks a welcome step away from his other work, both as actor and filmmaker, having found the ideal material for a total reboot, delivering a crowd pleaser where the scares come not with a bang but whispers and silence. In a chaotic information age, it’s liberating to become immersed in a movie where noise can kill you.