Director: John Krasinski
Screenplay: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, John Krasinski
Starring: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe
Runtime: 95 Minutes
A Quiet Place’s premise is an exceedingly clever and simple one. In a near-future, a family of four live in isolation on a farm trying to get by in a world where humanity has been ravaged by a species with incredibly advanced hearing capability. The live out their lives in a state of constant vigilance and near silence and communicating predominately through American Sign Language (ASL) in order to stay alive.
Much like 2016’s Don’t Breathe, the tension to be rung out of a situation in which the main protagonists have to make as little noise as possible (in a horror film) is an idea that can be ingeniously utilised under the right circumstances and direction, and A Quiet Place seeks to stress and terrorise the audience with this emotional strain for its entire runtime.
The concept is solid enough to hang any B-movie premise on, and in many ways this is one, but with a presentation and aesthetic closer to an arthouse picture. But director John Krasinski – who also stars as father Lee Abbott alongside real-life partner Emily Blunt as wife Evelyn – comes at this with a level of control and intricacy so breathlessly efficient that he may have finally found his calling as a filmmaker.
The worldbuilding details (give or take a few major omissions) are so well placed and natural to the evolution of how exactly one might go about surviving in an environment such as this is fantastically realised. The sound design of the film is damn near perfect, and Krasinski’s decision to drop the arbitrary (but effective) score entirely for stretches shows a faith in the material and the ability of the onscreen actors to convey the emotional connections required to care about them – and care we do.
The most valuable resource that the film has is the connection that it builds with the members of this fractured family, following a devastating opening sequence that establishes just how seriously the audience and the characters should take the threats that they are facing. The inability to communicate with one’s own kin is here a literal barrier that preys on the fears of parenthood and the expectations of societal roles as much as the concern of limitations.
Limitations being that the eldest daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf, so ASL is something of which they are all already familiar with giving them an advantage over the enemy, but a fear for the wellbeing of a family member who won’t be able to hear the danger coming when needed. Lee’s protectiveness over her straining an already splintered relationship and Simmonds is rather excellent here at channelling that frustration alongside another relative newcomer Noah Jupe as brother Marcus.
Krasinski is as great in front of the camera as he is behind it, subduing some the tendencies of post-apocalyptic father figures straining to fulfil masculine archetypes, and replacing it with the silent devastation of a man who is visibly struggling to come to terms with their tragic circumstances and being unable express himself in a more than visual way.
The need and desire to scream or to make noise and smash things is one that underpins every emotional response, knowing that to let out the primal sounds of despair is a suicidal action. Of all the main cast, Blunt’s is the one who carries the most weight. A mother suffering in silence both emotionally and physically throughout the entire runtime, and Blunt gets incredible range out of her role as a heavily pregnant mother in a world where babies are the last thing they need. A development of which leads to one of the film’s most traumatizingly intense and frightening sequences.
The whole film is built of moments like this. More or less a sequence of tumbling mistakes and efforts to rectify as the creatures move in. It eats up set pieces one after the other, building momentum but never losing a sense of pace toward its cathartically charged and brazen final moments.
There aren’t very many downsides to the film overall, the only big complaint that might come from many regard details of how their lives are sustained through means that couldn’t possibly be silent (such as electric generators), but they’re incidental details around the margins that never intrude on the story it's telling. It could be said that the overly busy creature designs probably work best when they’re not seen, or that the written dialogue and story isn’t wholly original, but it’s how it executes and brings to life its concept that will draw people in.
A Quiet Place is an unrelenting thrill ride; a highly emotional and creative film directed incredibly well with an amazingly capable cast, that just about transcends its more conventional digressions through mood and aesthetic. An experience that doesn’t just demand to be viewed in silence, but practically forces it onto the audience through prolonged and overpowering intensity.