Horror films might have not lost their popularity, but a vast majority of them these days prove the well-worn genre is losing its mojo. Heightened sound effects and music cues are all-too-predictable ways to try to scare audiences, but truly innovative or classic contemporary examples — with the occasional exception of a not easily defined hybrid that comes along to break the mold like Get Out — are not easy to find. Well, I have found one.
A Quiet Place is a genuinely effective, brilliantly executed piece of horror, a truly terrifying movie that earns its screams by essentially turning off the sound. Not since a blind Audrey Hepburn turned off the lights in Wait Until Dark a half-century ago have I had this kind of anxiety watching a movie. Director John Krasinski — who also co-wrote with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, co-produced, and co-stars with wife Emily Blunt — has delivered an edge-of-your-seat nail-biter that just might be too intense for some, so be warned. As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), it is essentially a silent film where the silence is cranked up to deafening levels. I had lost hope for original studio horror masterpieces on the level of The Exorcist, Alien and a few others, but in following its own unique path, A Quiet Place is one for the ages. It will freak you out and set off nightmares.
Set after an apocalyptic nightmare in which ugly-ass blind giant insect-y creatures (looking like atomic grasshoppers) have done in most of the planet, Krasinski’s film focuses on one family in rural New York who have abandoned their farmhouse to live in the barn where it is easier to control the sounds they make. The gist is these creatures, which reside just out of sight, pop up and eat their prey at the slightest hint of noise of any kind. Their hearing is sensitively attuned to the highest possible levels, and they have no hesitance to attack if even a pin drops. I promise you that you will not hear a pin drop in theaters when watching this play out.
Krasinski and Blunt play Lee and Evelyn, a couple with three kids. Unfortunately, one of them doesn’t last long when his toy goes off at the wrong place and the wrong time. The other two are nicely played by young British actor Noah Jupe and the hearing-impaired actress Millicent Simmonds, so fine in the recent Wonderstruck. Their daily lives consist of sign language and keeping communication down to a whisper. Any movement can be life threatening, though Lee discovered huge waterfalls nearby where he takes his son and explains that loud, overwhelming sounds like that make it OK to talk. A complication is thrown into the mix with Evelyn’s pregnancy and the impending birth of another child. The sequence where she has the baby, alone, is a master class in acting on the part of Blunt, who has never been better. It’s a helluva role, and it is all in her eyes.
For much of the movie the creatures are just seen in the distance or lurking around corners, but if you think Krasinski is going to keep them completely hidden, think again. Just like Hitchcock did in his own way in The Birds, once the battle between this family and their stalkers intensifies, he sticks the hideous creations right in our face. I have seen a ton of movie aliens and creatures of all sorts, but these things — which appear to be all teeth and no face — are truly horrific. I can’t get them out my head, but I need to. Bravo to the effects team, and really bravo to the sound team, which have created a brilliant sound design that appears deceptively to be devoid of sound or music at all. But it’s there, if not in obvious ways (Marco Beltrami’s unobtrusive score is one of his best and most restrained works).
The horror of it all aside, A Quiet Place is first and foremost a family story, a tale of survival, resilience and the will to stay together against all odds. On that level, this is as powerful a story of human perseverance as you are likely to see. In a world that seems to devalue life a little more every day, this film proves inspirational. In addition to exceptional onscreen work from Blunt and Krasinski, both Jupe and particularly Simmonds are riveting.
The technical credits are superior down the line including sharp editing from Christopher Tellefsen, economically inventive production design from Jeffrey Beecroft and team, as well as the cinematography that doesn’t miss a beat from Charlotte Bruus Christensen. Krasinski, who is emerging as a strong filmmaking talent after also delivering a different sort of family story with the underrated The Hollars, knows exactly what he is doing here and exactly how to do it. Producers are Michael Bay (!), Andrew Form, and Bradley Fuller. Paramount Pictures releases it Friday.
Do you plan to see A Quiet Place? Let us know what you think.