John Krasinski is best known for his comedic chops in “The Office,” but what you may not know is that he’s also building up a resume as a director. With “A Quiet Place,” his third feature film, Krasinski offers a simple, yet utterly thrilling spin on the well-trodden horror genre, proving that he’s a filmmaker to keep an eye on.
“A Quiet Place” stars Krasinski and Emily Blunt (who are married in real life) as Lee and Evelyn Abbott, a husband and wife who must navigate a near-future, post-apocalyptic landscape with their deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and their hearing son Marcus (Noah Jupe). They live a relatively simple life, but there’s one huge catch — they can’t make a sound, or risk being hunted down by alien-like creatures.
Sound has become such an expected part of our normal movie-going experience. In making a film that’s relatively silent and nearly void of dialogue, Krasinski takes command over the soundscape so that even normal noise feels deafening, simultaneously priming us for the monstrous horrors that will follow. It’s an unnerving, genius concept, and one that he uses to its full potential. The opening sequence in particular illustrates this toggle between silence and sound perfectly, making it one of the best openings to a film I’ve ever seen.
It’s also quite interesting to watch how the characters address this central problem. You’re safe as long as you avoid sound, which begs the question, “How do you stay silent?” That may seem simple enough on the surface, but in reality, it takes a lot of precaution, requiring you to plan your every move, your every breath. We meet the Abbott family at a point where they’ve been at this awhile, using sign language to communicate with one another and sand to cushion their steps. Even their board games consist of knitted playing pieces. As much as they plan, though, there are unexpected events and human errors that intervene, inviting terrifying consequences.
In terms of the creatures themselves, it’s partly about what you hear, but it’s also about what you see. Krasinski wisely takes a page from Steven Spielberg’s handbook; the monsters’ absence is like the shark in “Jaws,” while their presence is like the raptors in “Jurassic Park.” It engenders an uneasy feeling that they could be lurking anywhere at any time, but you never know where. This, combined with the film’s impeccable sound design, plays on all your senses and cranks up the suspense as the Abbott family’s situation escalates.
As much as “A Quiet Place” is a suspense thriller, it is equally a family drama. That’s what truly elevates this beyond jumpscare territory towards something greater, because Krasinski makes you care about and invest in these characters, both individually and as a family unit.
In front of the camera, Krasinski shows his dramatic range by depicting Lee as a fiercely protective, caring father. As good as he is, though, Blunt and Simmonds are the standouts. Within the narrative constraints of the film, Blunt does a lot of physical, emotive work without making a sound. Her character has some particularly grueling obstacles to deal with, and Blunt portrays that so viscerally it made my stomach churn watching her. Simmonds, who is a deaf actress, weaves these struggles organically into the context of the story and adds a level of realism and suspense. She also does a lot of the emotional heavy lifting, particularly through Regan’s relationship with Lee. The emotional climax of the film hinges on that dynamic, and the fact that Simmonds and Krasinski have a very believable father-daughter relationship makes this moment incredibly effective.
There aren’t too many knocks I have against this film. If I were to nitpick, I would say that some of the sequences become slightly cyclical and repetitive, but by no means does the film ever feel stagnant or stale. I also felt like the film almost could have ended a bit sooner. As it stands, the conclusion is satisfying, but I thought there was another cut-off point a little earlier that may have worked better.
I’ve seen plenty of good films this year, but I’ve been waiting for one to really grab me by the shoulders. “A Quiet Place” is the first 2018 film I’ve seen that is great. For the entire 95-minute run-time, it had me glued to my seat, tensed up and riveted. This film is a coming-out party for Krasinski’s directing talents and a showcase of what a calculated soundscape can do for a film.
You’ll want a quiet theater for this one. Enjoy the silence.