A Quiet Place is where John Krasinski’s hushed experiment in terror should be watched, not at multiplexes where silence is easily broken.
Krasinski’s movie wrings fright from silence so well that he accidentally makes a case for waiting until home video to be scared out of our ears.
A Quiet Place isn’t revolutionary, relying on enough abrupt shocks and grisly effects to satisfy chronic horror fans. But it works better as a mutation of the genre, placing aural dread ahead of visceral gore. What you don’t hear hurting you is common in horror; getting hurt only when you’re heard is another level of tension.
The setting is an unidentified mountain region where Lee and Evelyn Abbott (Krasinski and real-life wife Emily Blunt) raise their children, who can be seen but must not be heard. Krasinski’s screenplay parcels the reason why through details in the desolation: newspaper headlines about aliens attacking, a growing awareness that they respond to sounds.
The viciousness of that premise and Krasinski’s tack is made clear early on, after the Abbotts rummage through a deserted pharmacy for supplies. One child takes interest in a toy space shuttle with flashing lights and siren. Oops. What ensues sets a deadly tone for the remainder of A Quiet Place, circling back to matter even more in less than 90 minutes.
A year later, the Abbotts have settled in remote woods, building an underground shelter, soundproofed as possible. They communicate in whispers, expressions and sign language, a skill learned because eldest daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds, Wonderstruck) is deaf.
Even a tight running time enables Krasinski and the cast to explore the familial underpinnings of his screenplay. Everything happening in A Quiet Place is a result of two parents doing anything to protect their children. "Who are we if we can’t protect them?" Evelyn asks, no reply necessary. The question’s universality makes terror relatable, something that may not only happen in a movie.
At the same time, the Abbott children are more than mere victims. Krasinski’s screenplay covers most of the logic angles such survival entails, and the kids are key components of that survival. They have responsibilities to fulfill and decisions to make at peak times of crisis, scared but trained to live. Simmonds, who is deaf in real life, is a gently expressive actor in command of each moment.
A Quiet Place isn’t foolproof; its centerpiece is a harrowing sequence when Evelyn attempts to silently give birth in a bathtub. The scene works yet as it progresses, one wonders why the Abbotts would risk pregnancy under these circumstances. Didn’t that pharmacy have any condoms left on the shelf? And if a rushing river is a good place to speak out loud, why wouldn’t those arachnid aliens troll for dinner there?
Those are quibbles that, like Marco Beltrami’s intrusive musical score, aren’t easily ignored. But they’re easily forgiven when Krasinski executes a memorable corn silo crisis then a clockwork finale. This movie is smart terror that’s a lot of fun if you let it be. Stay quiet or stay at home.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.