A nerve-shredding masterclass where the silence is very much deafening.
John Krasinski has undergone somewhat of a persona change in the past five years. Many a generation will likely know the charismatic actor as the lovable, mischievous Jim Halpert from hit show The Office (US). Eager to escape the suffocating legacy of such a beloved character, the world saw him in a new light in 2016’s 13 Hours, showing a rugged, muscly Krasinski as a formidable, military screen force. Now, in 2018, before starring as the fifth on-screen incarnation of Jack Ryan, he’s released his fourth directorial effort after 2016’s lesser-known The Hollars. Starring alongside wife and all-round talent Emily Blunt, A Quiet Place is a staggeringly impressive horror debut that utilises a small concept to a nail-gnawing degree.
The world has been overrun by terrifying monsters, that hunt their prey – anything from racoons to humans – using sound. Starting 85 days after the chaos began, a family struggles to survive amidst their increasingly dangerous surroundings.
Make no mistake – this film is often excruciatingly quiet, with the opening scenes setting the stakes as to why this is an absolute necessity. If anyone makes a sound, whether its the drop of a can, the thud of a stick, or even the crunch of a leaf, they’re not just in danger, they’re more likely to face near-instant death. Unlike other monster movies, such as Tremors or even Cloverfield, your chances of escaping these despicably grisly beasts are next-to-none. As such, the film never lets you forget the danger, with characters constantly “shh”-ing each other (although one would think after a certain amount of days you would know to shut up). For this concept to fully work, the sound design needs to be perfect – and it is. Crisp, unforgiving and as impressive as Aronofsky’s mother!, if a tree fell in the woods and no-one was there, you’d probably still hear it.
With this much silence between the terror, jump scares are to be expected. While other films abuse these in a cheap way, A Quiet Place, on the whole, doesn’t succumb to temptation. Most scares are terrifically built up and executed well, with only the odd eye-rolling fake-out. Unlike the underwhelming creature design in 2017’s The Ritual, what is most relieving about the slight cynicism going into the film is that the monsters really are truly horrifying – guaranteed heebie-jeebies.
Krasinski, starring as well as directing, has taken this opportunity to showcase his dramatic talents, embodying a reassuring, passionate father while also channeling his buff, action chops. The young cast are generally excellent across the board, with only some audibly frustrating narrative decisions letting their characters down (a battery-powered toy rocket, really?). Millicent Simmonds, both deaf in the film and in real-life, gives an admirably game performance that draws the audience in to her trauma in this challenging setting.
It’s Blunt who steals the show however – fully immersing herself in this world, becoming a mother constantly racked with guilt and worry for the safety of her family, but never forgetting to comfort her children, painfully without being able to tell them she loves them out loud. A late-act set piece cements Blunt’s versatility and ability to portray desperation and pain.
The slight melodrama of the family may not always be entirely interesting, nor are many questions answered about how this world came to be (fires we see in the distance signal other survivors but never do we see them) – but the way Krasinski unravels the world for the audience is captivating. They walk in their bare-feet, they use lettuce leaves for plates, they use pieces of fabric for board games – all for the sake of not making a sound. It challenges the viewers to think, could you live like this? You will likely think, “surely they couldn’t hear that?”. Krasinksi, clearly keeping this in mind, slowly teases the nightmarish creatures, before an ungodly close up of their disgusting ear showing just how much they can actually hear.
There are a couple of odd cinematography choices that hint at some tips from the school of Bay-isms (who has a producing credit, likely after the pairs collaboration on 13 Hours). The music is not a dominating presence throughout, nevertheless Marco Beltrami’s desolate score, reminscent of The Last of Us and Signs, has the ability to induce chills, and at some points, even a little hope. Its most obvious comparison when watching (for me) was Shyamalan’s Signs. But Krasinksi, alongside writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, take care to strip the frills which turned the crop-circle horror into philosophy-driven drama, leaving a suspense-packed thrill-ride that never lets up.