The ingenious thing about A Quiet Place, actor John Krasinski’s directorial debut, is that from beginning to end, it never strays from its self-employed tricks. As a genre movie, it knows that one of the pertinent rules of suspense is that you need to set it up for your audience, bait them in, then go in for the kill. They already know what’s coming and it’s that extra surge of adrenaline that makes the ride just a little bit more fun.
The opening scene immediately establishes the setting—and does so quite effectively. A family of five tiptoe their way through an abandoned grocery, quietly foraging through the leftovers of a ravaged ghost town. Made up of a father (Krasinski, also starring), a mother (Krasinski’s real-life wife, Emily Blunt), and three children (one deaf-mute daughter and two sons, played by Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, and Cade Woodward), the tight unit seems to have one basic rule down pat: No loud noises are to be made. Or else.
Their cautious behavior, carefully planted newspaper headlines, and a looming sense of dread help clue the audience in on what might be the reason for the deafening silence. They’re living in a post-apocalyptic world ripped straight out of a harrowing Cormac McCarthy novel and there seems to be a predatory danger lurking close by. It doesn’t take long for the mysterious creature to be revealed in what might be one of the most depressing and violent prologues in recent horror cinema.
Set up. Bait. Kill.
Now, in order for the filmmakers to make the tension stew, all they need to do is rinse and repeat.
Krasinski proves himself to be an auteur of sorts. Who knew that The Office’s unassuming Jim Halpert had it in him? His pacing is quick, leaving no room for you to breathe when the chase begins. His thrills are cheap, but never disappointing because he lets you in on the joke even before he executes it (there’s a bit with a rusty nail that you should watch for). But what’s most impressive is that he crafts a family you care for, one that must deal not only with the physical drawbacks of their circumstances, but with the emotional as well. And the children, Millicent and Jupe especially, who bear the task of sparring with household names who’ve fashioned eccentric careers with their choice of roles, are nothing short of fantastic to witness.
Interestingly, the movie functions as both a survival horror thriller and a peek into the mounting pressures of building a home. With a vast farmland property at their disposal, our protagonists seem hopeful for a somewhat idyllic lifestyle—an innate quality in human beings. And in spite of these blood-hungry invaders, the family creates a daily routine to help them function.
The couple finds it in them to get pregnant (yes, as if having to protect themselves from sound-sensitive hunters wasn’t difficult enough). They say grace before meals. They do the laundry. The kids even play board games. Each member knows their role, and at the end of each day, they're just happy if they don’t end up being alien lunch.
Blunt, who carries most of the weight in the flick (literally and figuratively), is masterful as a silent actress. Her expressions communicate so much even when she’s doing so little. She’s full of grit and she lets you know it. The trappings of motherhood flow through her with a natural ease, so much so that she has an ethereal glow even in the direst of situations. It’s a great addition to her already-colorful filmography.
A Quiet Place is an enjoyable rollercoaster ride through jump-scares and inevitable shrieks. But at its core, it’s a story about familial adaptation. It’s about grieving and enduring the horridness of a situation, but always finding what is needed to push forward. After all, to protect those that mean the most to us is what can give any man’s life the most meaning. Because, as most of us already know, true horror only manifests itself when there’s no one left on the planet that matters or no one left for you to care for.
A Quiet Place opens in cinemas on April 11