Horror films have gotten a bad rap over the years with the rise of the slasher film in the 1980s, and those that came after following the blueprint that had been set by those films – strand a group of people, mostly unlikable, in an isolated location with a mysterious killer and watch them all get creatively killed off one by one, setting up the killer as the “hero” … so he can have a movie franchise and be a cash cow for the studio. But horror films got back to their roots of actually being scary and constructing a story that doesn’t rely on blood and guts to make audiences jump (I like to think James Wan set the new standard for horror with The Conjuring, which harkened back to my favorite haunted house movie of all time, the original The Haunting).
Now a new horror film has come along, and it wears that moniker proudly, with A Quiet Place starring Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Noah Jupe, and Millicent Simmonds, and directed and co-written by Krasinski. The story is simple but executed perfectly: something has happened to the planet. Most of our civilization is dead and the rest are struggling to survive because of some creatures that are roaming the land. We never know where they came from or what they are (the movie starts on Day 89 of this “invasion”) but we do know they are blind and hunt their prey only by sound. The movie focuses only on the Abbott family and their more than a year struggle to stay alive, walking everywhere in bare feet and communicating for the most part in sign language (they conveniently have a deaf daughter so it was a skill they had before the monsters arrived). But their lives become more complicated as Evelyn finds herself pregnant while older daughter Regan becomes more rebellious, especially when her father appears to favor her younger brother Marcus when it comes to doing “manly” things (which Marcus has no interest in). And then things get more complicated when the smallest sound draws the monsters to their home.
A Quiet Place plays like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, so it may not be totally original (and I can forgive a couple of convenient plot contrivances) but it is executed to perfection. Krasinski has a few episode of The Office and the family dramedy The Hollars under his directorial belt, but A Quiet Place allows him to really elevate his game with the particularly difficult device of not having much dialog, requiring his cast to act with their expressions and body language for the most part. He also uses the silence to great effect, ratcheting up the tension so much that you’ll be able to hear a pin drop in the theater. When the film’s concept grabs a hold of the audience to the point that they won’t make a sound either, you know you’ve succeeded. I found myself not eating my popcorn until a musical cue brought some sound to the scene so as to not make any noise. It really was a unique, shared experience that we all had and this is what going to the movies is all about.
Krasinski also has a hugely talented cast at hand. He, of course, stars as the father, Lee, the man who takes responsibility for keeping his family safe. In favoring his son over his daughter to take fishing, he may seem a bit sexist, but he’s actually working tirelessly to try to make her situation better. Both Millicent Simmonds (Regan) and Noah Jupe (Marcus) are terrific, again having to convey all of their emotions through expressions and body language. This type of acting is hard enough for an adult, so these kids are magnificent. And of course Mrs. Krasinski herself, Emily Blunt (who told John that no one else was playing this part after she read the script), is outstanding. Krasinski’s Lee may be the head of the family, but Blunt’s Evelyn is the glue that holds it all together. She has to keep the family routine moving along in a situation that is anything but routine and then she has to deal with a pregnancy on top of everything else while protecting her children at the same time. Krasinski allows her, in some extreme close ups, to show us all of Evelyn’s emotions through her face. It’s a mostly silent performance comparable to the one Sally Hawkins gave, and was Oscar nominated for, in The Shape of Water. Hopefully by the time awards season rolls around again later this year, the voters won’t forget about this performance.
There’s not much else to say about A Quiet Place except go see it. Just get some quiet snacks!