Director: John Krasinski
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 90 minutes
Simple concepts well-executed make for potent horror films. Whether it’s an escaped maniac returning to his hometown on Halloween night or people trapped in an atmospheric confined space a la 2016’s Don’t Breathe, straightforwardness often heightens suspense.
A Quiet Place is scary and engrossing largely because of its minimalism, but it’s not slight. The lean 90 minutes is dense, with director John Krasinski establishing a distinct mood and sense of place. The terrifying sensory experience promised by the high concept is delivered, as are relatable familial bonds and friction.
Following a title card reading “Day 89,” the film opens with an unnamed family (credited as the Abbotts) tiptoeing around a pharmacy and carefully gathering supplies. The reason for their extreme caution, and the counting of days, is made apparent rather quickly; beasts of unexplained origin have overrun the planet. They’re blind but possess super-hearing and will attack at the slightest sound. The family – patriarch (Krasinski), his wife (Krasinski’s real-life spouse Emily Blunt), son (Noah Jupe), and daughter (Millicent Simmonds), who’s deaf – has built somewhat of a life, living in silence on a remote farm. Surrounded by persistent hunters, reeling from the fallout of the invasion, and expecting a baby, their endurance is tested.
As one may expect from the premise, sound – and the lack of it – plays a major role in A Quiet Place’s shocks. Long stretches of silence intensify the tension as we wait for any noise that may stir the monsters. The use of sign language and other non-verbal communication grabs our attention and keeps it. Jump scares are used shrewdly and the score from Marco Beltrami builds from low rumbles to loud crashes in moments of danger. When we get the perspective of the daughter, sound drops out completely, making for some of the most stressful sequences as we see threats lurking.
Simmonds, who is deaf in real life, does a fantastic job of reacting to the changing expressions and actions of her castmates, coming to horrified realizations of what’s happening around her. Her character is far from incapable, however, displaying smarts, a strong will, and tween angst that comes from a very real place. Without speaking a word, she’s great at expressing the hurt and frustration in a strained relationship with her father. Krasinski and Blunt successfully balance paternal reassurance with weariness, communicating familial pressures that go beyond protecting your kids from killer aliens. Blunt’s matriarch is put through an absolute wringer – remaining silent while giving birth at home is predictably difficult – and she makes us feel every labored non-breath and pained biting of the fist.
Krasinski’s controlled approach extends to his direction, which artfully communicates information by showing and not telling. We don’t need to be told why the family plays board games with homemade cloth pieces, why they walk barefoot on painted marks on an old wood floor, or what different colored lights on their property mean. There’s also an unstated balance between typical responsibilities that retain some semblance of normalcy – like homeschooling the kids – and imparting wisdom that’s relevant to this new reality – like teaching your son unique survival skills. Certain macro-level questions linger but we’re never out of the moment with this endangered household.
The director also establishes the seriousness of the threat early on with a couple of swift attacks that show the power and ruthlessness of the hunters. Creature design is intimidating but unfussy, with a focus on their high-powered hearing canal that mixes practicality with alien oddity.
In the face, and “ears,” of this otherworldly threat, the family must be strong to survive, and through solid performances, smart parsing of information, and contextualized anxiety, that struggle is nerve-shredding. A Quiet Place is an airtight thriller that will leave you breathless.