4 out of 5 stars.
It’s a long, long time into “A Quiet Place” before there’s any spoken dialogue—or any long, prolonged noise, for that matter. The horror film uses sound not just as a gimmick for its monster—which hunts its prey through sound—but to create tension, not just in terms of a family’s survival, but also in terms of their emotional connection.
In the world depicted in “A Quiet Place,” the presence of monsters—assumedly aliens from another planet—on Earth has created a dystopian world, but one which we only see from the eyes of the Abbott’s, a family who lives on a farmhouse in a rural area. Much of the backstory is left to the audience to decipher, largely based on visual clues as the first third of the film is very quiet. We can assume based on the desolate town that the creatures wiped out much of the population before people figured out that they track them through sound, and it’s fascinating to watch the opening minutes of the film and seeing how the Abbott’s have had to adapt to survive. They don’t speak out loud, they don’t wear shoes, they mark where to step where the stairs won’t creak, and much of their activity is confined to the lower levels of their home, where any sound they make is muffled. Dad Lee (John Krasinski, who also directed and co-wrote the film) spends much of his time looking for ways to defeat the monsters, as well as passing on to his children what they need to know to survive, while mom Evelyn (Emily Blunt) holds the family together. Lee’s relationship with his children is depicted as being tense, especially with daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), who is deaf. She doesn’t feel like he loves her, is frustrated with the repeated attempts to find a hearing aid that will work for her, and blames herself for a family tragedy. Meanwhile, younger son Marcus (Noah Jupe) is afraid of the world outside their farmhouse, and isn’t sure his father can protect him.
“A Quiet Place” isn’t a scary movie in the usual sense, and it is a while in to the film before the thrills kick in; but when they do, they go beyond mere jump scares and gradually creep up on you, creating a feeling of tension that doesn’t let up until after the credits roll. This is Krasinki’s first outing as a director, but he crafts the film with what would otherwise appear to be an experienced hand, planting visual clues early in the film that the audience knows will come up later, keeping the viewer’s mind spinning as to how they will play out, and how the family will handle it. Sound—and the lack of sound—is also used incredibly effectively. The beginning of the film is so quiet, in fact—with only ambient sounds like a breeze blowing or footsteps on sand to break the silence—that the pressure the characters are under to remain silent passes on to the audience. In other words, you might want to finish your popcorn before the movie starts.
But it’s also remarkable how the sound cuts out entirely when the story shifts to Regan’s perspective, to better put the audience in her shoes, as she really can’t hear anything. This adds another layer to her character as well, as she can’t hear when noise in made that could put her in danger. But rather than make her scared, this makes her fearless; Simmonds perpetually has a look of determination in her eyes as character marches on, demanding her father to treat her the same way he treats Marcus. Later in the film, sound is used quite differently, as we realize that the characters don’t necessarily have to be quiet all the time, as long as there is a louder sound to cover whatever noise they are making. If you want to think harder about this film than you really need to, you could question what happens when, say, a person needs to sneeze (or fart, per a recent conversation dominating Twitter). And considering that we know that the creatures are sensitive to sound, it’s kind of incredible that no one has found a way of defeating them before.
The rest of the cast in addition to Simmonds is excellent, often solely performing through physical expression. Jupe is another fantastic young actor, and Krasinski and Blunt are nothing short of riveting, with Krasinski giving one of the most moving paternal performances I’ve seen in recent years, and Blunt cementing her status as a hero you don’t want to mess with. Sure, Krasinski and Blunt are husband and wife in real life, but together the four actors have incredibly chemistry that makes them a completely believable family. In terms of the monsters, the design is very creepy, and it’s a while before we get the full reveal, which adds to the suspense. But as much as the final third of the film is dominated by action, “A Quiet Place” is, more than anything else, a family drama. It’s about a family not just trying to survive, but trying to come to terms with their past, and a father and mother doing whatever it takes to protect their children. It’s this emotional thread more than the scares that stays with you.
Runtime: 90 minutes. Rated PG-13.