A Quiet Place, directed by John Krasinski, is a superlative horror film because it does all the little things right. It stars simple, relatable characters who live in a well-defined yet fascinating world, and face a terrifying, but wholly understandable, villain. When the building blocks of a movie are that solid, it’s no surprise everything that follows is so damn good. A Quiet Place was built right.
Krasinski, who also co-wrote the film with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, stars as a father in a familiar-looking near-future. He, his wife (Emily Blunt), and two kids (Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe) live on a farm in a town where no one else seems to be around. We learn, through visual cues and never, ever, being pandered to, that something happened on Earth that wiped almost everyone out. This something necessitates the family be absolutely, dead silent, or else pay with their lives.
When sound is the enemy, scaring an audience comes pretty easily. Have a few characters talk in sign language, then have one knock something over. Make a floor creak just a little too much. Think about all the things in your daily life that make sound. Plates, shoes, toys, everything. In this world, it can all be deadly. Throughout the film, Krasinksi wields this power over his audience. Anytime a character moves, we’re worried. Anytime someone picks up an object, it’s nerve-wracking. Sound itself becomes the antagonist and even when things are safe and everything is perfectly silent, it’s never, ever comfortable. This simple, sharp premise gives the entire film an undeniable, palpable tension that’s only exacerbated with intermittent jump scares and, eventually, the reveal of what lurks in the silence.
None of the tension would matter, though, if we didn’t care about the characters on-screen, and Krasinski makes damn well sure we do. The film opens with an event that inspires overwhelming sympathy for the entire family. After that, the father spends his days trying to figure out the mystery of what happened to the world. The mother teaches the kids and prepares for a very, very uncertain and scary future. The son attempts to find a bravery that’s not quite there yet, while the daughter struggles with the fact that she’s deaf while feeling ostracized by her family.
These traits and storylines give everyone an ability to grow and evolve in these dire circumstances. And trust us, those circumstances are dire. The final hour of A Quiet Place is an avalanche of non-stop terror. Things get bad, then they get worse, then they get truly horrible. If you can bear to watch it all without covering your face, you’ll creep to the edge your seat, praying for it to stop. But it doesn’t. Not until the final credits roll.
All of this can be credited to Krasinski’s direction, which is top-notch, but the film’s performances across the board match beautifully. Simmonds in particular, as the oldest and most conflicted child, exhibits a heart-breaking mix of confidence and self-doubt. Jupe’s wide-eyed innocence is a conduit for the viewer, and Krasinski’s charisma makes him a worthy hero. But it’s Blunt who completely anchors the film, not only with her occasional bursts of humor, but an ability to convey terror and pain that’s almost too believable to watch.
Then there’s the sound design. Holy shit, the sound design. How often does a review call out the sound team? But it’s crucial in A Quiet Place and the whole team has created a masterwork. The movie has different types of silence throughout. The quieter scenes only make the very loud big scenes that much more shocking, and all of it is intermittently mixed with Marco Beltrami’s creepy score, but only when it feels right. The sound in A Quiet Place gives the movie life and it’s beyond excellent.
And yet, while almost everything about A Quiet Place works perfectly, the best stuff goes unsaid, which is certainly appropriate. Krasinski, both as an actor as well as director, never force-feeds information to his audience. We see everything we need to understand this world and words aren’t necessary. Maybe it’s a specific, seemingly out-of-place action, or a camera that stays on an object a bit longer than it needs to. Then there’s a whiteboard of information and a collection of newspaper headlines, each adding to the mystery. Having crucial information provided visually is an undeniably wonderful change of pace. Most importantly though, it locks the viewer into the film in a very powerful way. We’re on hyper-alert almost instantly, which then pays off as Krasinski sprinkles horrors into his widescreen frame and soundtrack.
He’s made the rare horror movie that’s not just scary, not just emotional, but intellectually satisfying. It’s a movie worth cheering when it’s over—assuming you’re not too terrified to do it.
A Quiet Place opens April 6.