2018 | rated PG-13 | starring Emily Blunt, John Krasinski | directed by John Krasinski | 1hr 30mins |
Studio Pitch: Monsters kill by sound! In technicolor!
It is actually hard to think of a hook or way “in” to talk about A Quiet Place. Yes, I could say that it’s actor John Krasinski’s first big genre movie. I could say that last year we got a terrific horror movie from a comic actor with Jordan Peele’s Get Out and this year we got the same in Krasinski, previously best known as deadpan prankster Jim Halpert in The Office. I could say that the movie has serious vibes of M. Knight Shyamalan’s Signs, which also speaks to it being a PG-13 monster movie descendent of a Steven Spielberg frightfest family film of the 80s. A Quiet Place is all of those things, but it’s also a classically simple and high concept premise, executed to near flawlessness and unfolding with such pleasure in each reveal that I don’t want to spoil anything. So much that it almost transcends the comparisons.
The film is a wonderful surprise on several levels with Krasinski proving in one dynamic finger snap not only his ability to tell a story in an ambitious way but how firmly he has command of the sound and visual elements of atmospheric horror. It is very minimalist, rendering even a summary of it difficult; set primarily on one farm house and the surrounding fields and dropping us in the middle of an apocalypse where we can only speculate about the backstory, the origins of the monsters and the previous lives of it’s characters. In a world ravaged and emptied by mysterious monsters that are blinded but have exceptional hearing, a husband (Krasinski), pregnant wife (Emily Blunt) and their children survive in a life of silence in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. As the baby’s due date approaches the family prepares to defend against an all out assault from the creatures in the trees beyond.
A Quiet Place‘s most admirable quality is how committed it remains to the silent motif for the majority of the running time. Where Get Out‘s strengths lay in it’s clever script and eerie story, Quiet Place’s strengths lie in it’s use of sound and shadow and understanding of movies as a visual medium. It is a tight, restrained, purely cinematic experience that sets itself a challenge and sticks to the rules of it’s world. Performances are great all around with Blunt, Krasinski and the two young leads (Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe, so real they feel like the off-screen couples actual kids) carrying the film almost entirely without spoken dialog and with the tortured emotion on their faces. Without back story or exposition (but hints to both), the movie crafts it’s character relationships out of their actions and communicates a real deeply-felt affection between parents and children. Where another movie would have created some sort of “out” that once discovered the characters can spend the rest of the film talking, Krasinski instead has everyone speak in sign language and trusts the audience to keep up.
The suspense sequences are equally difficult and effective, where every tiny sound creates effective jumps where a less well-set-up horror film wouldn’t. The way this movie’s heroes slip around their environment forced to keep from doing what comes naturally at the risk of certain death finds Quiet Place playing out like a Steven Moffat-scribed episode of Doctor Who. Don’t blink, don’t breath and don’t make a sound. Yes, there are vicious big-toothed monsters out there, but the terror lies in the most immediate threat of bumping into a lantern or stepping on a creak in the floorboards. The silence hangs thick in the air.
It is endlessly fascinating how Krasinski and his co-writers (Bryan Woods and Scott Beck) survey this world and build in the details of how this family has survived in it by making a life out of silence. The family communicating with lights, walking on sand paths, share moments with music through earbuds, play Monopoly with cloth pieces and even planning for the arrival of their next child. We learn about the creatures only from scratched notes on a whiteboard and newspaper headlines tacked to the wall. Everything about A Quiet Place is an interactive experience that invites eyes to scan the screen for details and engage with the movie’s taught playing around with things going bump in the dark. The film eventually settles into a thrilling rhythm for it’s relentless second half, taking action over the course of a single night and tightening the screws around maternal and childhood peril.
Eventually things need to be brought to a head. We need to see the shark in Jaws. A Quiet Place delivers that satisfying confrontation in a cracker-jack climax that is as fun as it is cheesy. In the third act, Krasinski pulls off the slow-pace, art-house indie mask to reveal Quiet Place is really a tried-and-true genre film underneath – and has been all along (dun dun dun). I imagine it will divide audiences the same way the third acts of Signs or District 9 did because the first 2 acts of the movie is so exceptional. I do wish for something more unique, something that matches the ingenuity of the rest of the film, but at that point the movie had built up too much good will, was too well realized, and I was completely sold on it. It’s not revelatory, but it works just fine, ending on a rollicking fun note at a tight 90 minutes.
A rare work of originality at today’s multi-plexes, A Quiet Place is a must-see. A high-concept premise, well-told in an ambitious way. It’s thrilling and fun and one of the few well-constructed horror movies in recent years. Krisinski doesn’t break new monster movie ground, but he did build a better mouse-trap that found a way to make the jump scare effective again. That alone, is worthy of a commendation.
For another example on what A Quiet Place gets so right about horror movie construction, check out Blumhouse’s Truth Or Dare, a movie that gets none of those things right.