Horror works best when it taps into real fears. A unique premise and creepy monsters work for momentary jumps, but to have a lasting effect a scary movie needs to explore the primal anxieties and concerns we all face day to day. This is exactly what John Krasinski taps into so well with A Quiet Place, which Krasinski directs, stars in, and co-wrote. On the surface it’s a clever and tense monster movie about a family struggling to survive in the wilderness while hiding from creatures that hunt by sound, but on a Meta level it allows Krasinski to explore his own insecurities about parenting in a way that only the horror genre can. The real-life relationship between him and his co-star Emily Blunt adds an extra layer to the mother and father roles they play, and their desperation to protect their children truly feels as though it’s coming from somewhere very real. Given that there a few moments in A Quiet Place where the characters are truly safe, and it all adds up to a filmic experience that is as emotionally engaging as it is terrifyingly tense.
It’s uncommon for the sound design of a film to be one of its most notable aspects, but when noise is as important to a story as it is in The Quiet Place every creak, footstep, and scuffle is cause for alarm. The Abbott family’s farmhouse is located within hunting range of at least three of the sound-sensitive creatures that have wiped out much of the population, and there may be more they don’t know about. This forces the characters to be so quiet when interacting with the world that their own heartbeats are often louder that anything coming from the environment, until something inevitably goes wrong and makes a sound that feels very, very loud. It turns the film into a masterpiece of tension, as nearly every scene can turn dangerous with no warning through something as simple as a dropped lamp. Special mention must be given to how important Marco Beltrami’s score becomes in a film with as little dialogue as this, with the music setting the tone for both the more peaceful, melancholic moments as well as the heart pounding sequences when the creatures attack. More importantly, both Beltrami and Krasinski know when to not use music at all, as the silent moments are the ones that had me holding my breath and leaning in closer to the screen in anticipation of what would happen next.
As clever as the central concept of A Quiet Place is, there have been plenty of horror movies with smart premises that weren’t able to carry them for a full cinematic runtime. It’s thanks to the strength of the performers and the constant twists of the script that A Quiet Place is just as gripping in its nail-biting opening scene as it is for the powerful final shot. Krasinski and Blunt are both experienced actors who clearly relish the opportunity to express their characters and emotions non-verbally, utilising a mix of sign language and facial expressions, but I was surprised by how well the two child actors manage. Millicent Simmonds’s own deafness is reflected in her character, adding an additional level of lived experience to the silence she lives in, but both her and Noah Jupe bring out an extraordinary amount of personality without needing dialogue. It’s notable that the writing of one brief scene between Jupe and Krasinski where they can share spoken words feels uncomfortably clunky and unnatural, particularly after how effectively the characters have used alternative means to communicate up until that point.
The screenplay keeps the narrative fairly contained to the Abbott family and their farmhouse, but a few nice little touches suggest a larger world that’s surviving against the creatures in their own way. I particularly appreciated a minor sequence where Lee (Krasinski) lights a bonfire that is matched by other unseen households in the distance, wordlessly implying the presence of other families with their own stories. I was a bit underwhelmed by the actual monster design of the creatures the more we see of them, which end up resembling the demogorgon from Strange Things and are more frightening in how their absence forces the Abbott family to live in a constant state of caution. The truly impressive thing about A Quiet Place, though, is how even in this tense environment Krasinski is able to develop the relationship between this family and explore what lengths parents will go to in order to protect their children. Another example of how a simple horror movie premise can be used to say something much deeper about the human experience.
4 and a half stars.