John Krasinski’s foray into horror is also a smart and thrilling exercise in restraint.
What are we if we cannot communicate? If those we love are unable — or refuse — to understand our perspective? Each becomes a lonely island, separated by our own thoughts; no longer a chorus of shared experience, instead segregated by will, by necessity, by fear. This terrifying concept is at the root of John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place: a film that not only succeeds in frightening the suspense and horror genre core fanbase but is further a deeply moving story of familial loss, grief, and the inability to connect to those who are left behind.
On the surface, A Quiet Place exists as a simple story set in 2020, where blind predators have literally clawed and chewed their way to the top of the food chain. Any sound above a whisper will trigger the monster to their prey. Those who have survived have done so by living in near-slience. The Abbott family has adapted this way, scavenging nearby towns for supplies and living on a farm converted into a sound-proof fortress. When an unthinkable loss changes everything, survival becomes less about unity and physical safety and more about silencing the emotional pain.
Place is the sophomore effort from Krasinski, who already seems comfortable making films studying familial bonds. His directorial debut The Hollars is a far less sophisticated and subtle offering than A Quiet Place; however, his ability to assemble phenomenal acting talent and command stellar performances is superior to most actor-turned-directors. And while I am famously unmoved by directors who choose to perform in their own work, it seems to serve Krasinski well here, as he approaches the film with the love of a father. Emily Blunt as Abbott matriarch Evelyn and Noah Jupe as son Marcus fully sell their complicated characters and family dynamic.
Jupe’s grasp of concepts far beyond his age doesn’t mean increased maturity, as his near-constant trepidation is palpable. Every second is survival and Marcus always seems just one beat from a total breakdown. Blunt is inspired, unsurprisingly, completely commanding each scene she appears. But it is Millicent Simmonds as daughter Regan who truly shines in Place; she is every teenage girl who finds it so difficult to communicate with the people she loves the most. Regan’s deep love and stubborn nature is both her strength and greatest weakness as she would rather sever connections than bond with those she feels are unable to understand her. The allegory is heavy here, but rather than take away from the movie, it becomes the whole point.
Though Krasinski is credited as a writer on the film, the concept was conceived long ago by friends Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, who were obsessed with silent film masters Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. The exploration of suspense in a silent film is a simple concept and would have probably succeeded even in a typical monster movie. It is refreshing, however, that Place explores so much more than just humans being hunted. Recent films like It Follows, The Babadook, and It Comes at Night have elevated the horror genre far above early 2000s slasher obsession and torture porn. Primarily cautionary tales, these films draw you in, defying expectations and subverting classic story beats to captivate audiences and keep their hearts racing.
And just because A Quiet Place is a study on loss and grief, make no mistake: this is a scary movie. Playing on the Hitchcockian idea that suspense comes not from surprising the audience but from showing all the cards at the top of the scene, Place builds the anticipation of each beat until your heart is on the edge of exploding. The Industrial Light & Magic-created monsters — or aliens? I’m not 100% on the origins; all I know is I have been quietly tiptoeing around my house since last night — are scary enough, particularly in their first appearance. Consequently, it is the characters’ actions, compelling everyday occurrences, and the deafening silence that provide the most chilling moments.
The rustic aesthetic lends itself to the widescreen framing, highlighting the horrific idea that the world is a very big place and it is impossible to visually assess all danger. The only protection comes from isolation, and each time a character shuts him or herself off from the group — physically and metaphorically — the frame expands. The art direction is a bit on the nose with leaves covering empty homes and abandoned buildings that have become a trope of modern apocalyptic stories. Turns out that if the world ends, we’ll all need a broom. And everyone is just a little too perfect and lovely; is beauty the key to survival in 2020? Not that I would believe Krasinski and Blunt could produce any offspring that would not grace the cover of GQ, but it is still a little annoying when each character onscreen is gorgeous.
And while the film has minimal dialogue, I’m not entirely sure any lines were necessary at all. The performances are most successful in silence; the expository scenes only cheapen the real emotions evident in the cast’s movements and subtle glances. Further, there will be some who vehemently hate the denouement. I found it the only conclusion the film could possibly come to — and while entirely predictable, it is the course the film set in motion and was obligated to arrive at. But these are small issues, and don’t diminish the film’s ultimate impact.
The scariest horror films are entrenched in reality; they exploit those fears that exist right outside our door. It’s not ghosts or the Devil that keeps us up at night — try claustrophobia like in The Shining, or impending motherhood as in Rosemary’s Baby, or the primal terror of keeping quiet when your life is on the line. While A Quiet Place is not quite on par with the aforementioned films, it is certainly a step in the right direction for the genre and a tremendous accomplishment for Krasinski. A layered story with haunting performances and the exact right amount of jump scares, Place continues the post-Babadook Horror Film Renaissance.