Film Review: A Quiet Place

Director John Krasinski makes his creature-feature debut, with a smart monster movie that plays out mostly in silence.
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A Quiet Place could be just another sci-fi horror film. A little bit of Aliens (giant insectoid carnivores), a little bit of Signs (small farm family under attack, in a house surrounded by cornfields). Even the shocks—wait for it, wait for it, wait for it, and then BOOM—follow time-honored editing beats.

Still, the movie has one great gimmick: silence.

In this story, you see, the invaders are giant man-eaters who hunt their prey by sound. The reason? They can’t see, at least not on Earth. So if you can stay absolutely silent, they can’t find you. And how likely is that in this noisy world? Not very. When the movie opens, the beasts have been here for a few months—and the planet is practically desolated.

The Abbott family has survived, surprisingly, even though they have three kids. Because, as most parents would agree, it can be hard to keep kids silent, even if your life depended on it.

And in this case, it does.

The smart setup lets director John Krasinski—who also co-wrote the screenplay and co-stars with his wife, Emily Blunt—make a very different kind of creature movie. Sound effects are minimal. Dialogue is almost nonexistent. (The fact that the Abbotts have a hearing-impaired daughter gives them a plausible reason to all know sign language.)

And so, Krasinski has to tell his tale the old-fashioned way—visually. Scraps of old newspapers give us the backstory. Careful close-ups explain how the family’s safeguards and booby-traps work. When a baby screws up its face, ready to cry, the tension becomes almost palpable; when Krasinski and Blunt have a late-night dance, sharing a pair of earbuds, the Neil Young song sounds like a symphony.

It’s an emotional moment in a film that’s often figuratively, as well as literally, quiet. The creatures are—quite smartly—kept mostly off-screen until well into the film; emotions are saved for only the most wrenching moments. Instead, this is a film that first sets its fantastic story on a base of realistic detail (to avoid all noise, meals are served on lettuce leaves and games are played with bits of felt). And then, once that structure is in place, it lets the nightmares loose.

Krasinski is a fine, warm, decent presence as the father, although some might worry that the film seems very happy with old-fashioned gender roles. (He’s not only clearly the family’s macho leader and chief protector, he’s training their son to take over.) But don’t worry. Blunt soon shows she can not only cook and clean, she can birth a baby or handle a shotgun as well as any pioneer woman. And the young deaf actress Millicent Simmonds—who has the sly, secretive power of a baby Stockard Channing—eventually proves herself to be the bravest family member of all.

The production is cleverly economical—the entire film was shot in upstate New York, with a cast of six—and production values are superior, with cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen finding deep shadows in cramped spaces, and Marco Beltrami’s music adding just the right, spare notes of menace. Only Christopher Tellefsen’s standard horror-movie editing betrays the project’s more obvious genre antecedents.

The polished film is another fine calling card for Krasinski (who last directed the warmhearted The Hollars) and an enjoyable, offbeat sci-fi shocker. But just a warning: If you go, for heaven’s sake, and your own, make sure your phone really is turned off before the film begins, and unwrap any candy bars quietly and quickly. Not because the monsters might murder you if you make a sound. But because other audience members most definitely will.

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