I’ve experienced many movies whose visuals needed to be seen on the big screen, but A Quiet Place is the first one that needs to be heard specifically on a theater’s speakers. Seriously, I’ve never known a film that leans so heavily on its sound design for success, and if the movie’s sound team isn’t all nominated for Oscars next year, something has gone tragically wrong. John Krasinski’s latest directing effort has other issues that keep it from being a truly great horror film, but it’s more than good enough to merit your trip to the multiplex.
The movie is set three years in the future, after giant space aliens who make up for their blindness with sharp teeth and talons and super-sensitive hearing have decimated the world’s population. Krasinski and his real-life wife Emily Blunt play the parents of two children (a third is on the way and a fourth is snatched up by the creatures in a prologue sequence) living in complete silence on a corn farm. They’ve survived partly because the oldest child (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf, so the entire family already knows how to communicate in sign language. With the mother about to deliver, the father is anxious to discover a weakness in the bulletproof creatures that might save them all. By the way, all these characters have names, but since they’re never used, I feel silly mentioning them.
It’s well that there are so few lines of spoken dialogue, because were there more, this movie’s domestic drama might drown in sentimentality like Krasinski’s insufferable dysfunctional-family comedy The Hollars. Without big, emotional speeches for the actors to spout, Krasinski is forced to be economical, conveying tension in small gestures and keeping the action flowing. The lack of speech dries the movie out and frees Krasinski to concentrate on spectacular set pieces like the two kids being trapped in a grain silo by one of the aliens, or another one with the mother going into labor in her bathtub and stifling her screams while a creature lurks in the bathroom. The director is just as good thinking through the details of everyday life that have been affected by the aliens; the characters walk barefoot everywhere (with sand trails laid through the woods and into the nearby town), the mother serves meals on big vegetable leaves instead of plates, and the kids play Monopoly with pieces of felt instead of tokens. There’s an indelible romantic moment when the parents, alone, dance together while listening through the same pair of earbuds to Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.”
That said, this script is rather literal-minded and lacks the metaphorical resonances that make better family-oriented horror flicks like The Babadook and The Witch reverberate in your mind long after the credits roll. It’s awfully convenient that an alien is always nearby whenever someone drops something or screams out in pain. While the director has assembled a terrific creative team, he picks the wrong composer: Marco Beltrami has done some good work in the past (Snowpiercer), but subtlety isn’t his forte, and that’s what this material needed.
Still, A Quiet Place rattles along efficiently, with Blunt and Simmonds standing out amid the cast. (Simmonds is the deaf-in-real-life actress who was introduced to us in last year’s Wonderstruck, and if anything, she’s even better here.) The acting and craftsmanship here put this in the top 10% of B-grade scares and make this a crackling piece of entertainment.
A Quiet Place
Starring Emily Blunt and John Krasinski. Directed by John Krasinski. Written by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, and John Krasinski. Rated PG-13.