★★★½ stars (out of 5)
What you’ll hear and see in this topnotch horror/thriller has got to be one of the best uses of sound deprivation and sound effects ever blended together in any movie.
With the release of last year’s “Get Out,” the horror genre has blown up big time. It’s no longer limited to your granddaddy’s “Frankenstein.”
“A Quiet Place,” with its extremely well-thought-out use of silence and noise, is another one of the new age pioneers that is stretching boundaries. Rarely has a scary movie been so filled with vulnerable protagonists and fraught with abject fear, impending danger and raw emotion. Wow.
The unlikely source of this trailblazing filmmaking is the actor John Krasinski. Yes, the comic thespian from TV’s “The Office” and the occasional dramatic lead in films like “13 Hours.” Krasinski marked his feature directing debut with “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” and followed that up with the comedy/drama “The Hollars,” a film he co-starred and directed. With this high-concept piece, he meshes writing, acting and directing duties.
The young dad Lee Abbott (Krasinski) walks through an abandoned general store in an empty New England-looking town, where fallen leaves blow down desolate streets. With his wife, Evelyn (Emily Blunt, “The Girl on the Train,” and Krasinski’s real-life spouse) in tow, and his three children behind him, the group scavenges for supplies. There’s Regan (Millicent Simmonds, “Wonderstruck”) a stubborn tween girl who is deaf; her younger brother Marcus (Noah Jupe,” Wonder”) and the barely-over-toddler-aged Beau (Cade Woodard).
As the family walks home, single file through the woods, it’s hard not to notice that they don’t talk. They are also hypersensitive to making any noise, to the point that they walk barefoot and seem paranoid that something will jump out at them. Their fear is just, as violent deadly creatures abound, who can take out a subject or person in one swoop. The trick with the menacing demons is that they are blind and stalk victims based on noise. Hence the survivalists’ shroud of quietness. And if the family needs a reminder just how precarious their situation is, they get it when one of them makes a peep and swift carnage ensues.
That’s the setup by screenwriters Bryan Woods, Scott Beck (“The Bride Wore Blood”) and Krasinski. Most of the action takes place around the Abbott’s farm, in corn fields, nearby streams, their house and bunker cellar. The lack of locations just makes the proceedings more eerie and claustrophobic. You feel that their lives are constrained, stripped-down and boxed-in.
The dynamics between Lee and the bullheaded Regan, strain emotions within the clan and add a tension within their dire circumstances that pulls you closer into their lives, far deeper than the standard genre film. Every step they make, any impromptu outburst or falling object could mean death. It’s a horrible way to live. It instills fear in the family and the viewer almost instantly. It scares you to the core with unabated anxiety for 90 nail-biting minutes.
It’s almost shocking that an actor who has built his career on comedy could turn into a director who knows how to milk intense drama out of every scene. Sure, Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) paved the way, but John Krasinski’s take on this horrific, terrorizing story is as sound, astute, creative and forward thinking. It’s makes you want to follow his impending career as a director to see what he’ll dream up next.
Krasinski is very judicious and sparing with the violent, bloody attacks, pacing them out perfectly over the course of the film. The incessant suspense is even more nerve-racking than the carnage. The creatures are horrific enough, but watching them circle around potential victims just makes your heart stop. He’s also great with the child actors and gives Blunt enough room to be vulnerable and brave in moments that range from recoiling from a monster who is breathing down her neck, to guarding her children like a momma bear.
Marco Beltrami’s (“World War Z”) musical score whips emotions up into a frenzy. Christopher Tellefsen’s editing never skips a beat and cuts the fat. It’s amazing that Danish cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen (“Molly’s Game”), production designer Jeffrey Beecroft (“13 Hours”) and set decorator Heather Loeffler (“American Hustle”) can create such a homey, familial atmosphere, from so few sets. Credit also goes to them for giving the film a look that is so archetypical rural Americana.
Krasinski makes the quintessential, Birkenstock-wearing everyman dad likable. Blunt displays a wider range of emotions and it’s great to see her in a strong movie after duds like “The Girl on the Train.” At one point Evelyn confronts her husband when their kids are in peril: “Who are we if we can’t protect them?” That sense of love, responsibility and guilt will tug on the heart strings of adult viewers, especially parents.
With no dialogue whatsoever, Millicent Simmonds becomes the central focus of your empathy. It’s like her Regan character never makes the right choice. Add on a disability that puts her at a clear disadvantage, considering the surrounding danger, and you instinctively pin your hopes on her pulling her family through its ordeal.
There is sequence, however it needed more thought: In opening scenes, as the family walks home, the father leads and mother follows with the kids behind her. Few families go to the mall without one parent in the front and one in the back, in order to make sure that their little ones don’t get lost. If people-killing monsters are around, you’d think mom and dad would watch them like a hawk, from the front and the back. Just saying.
This kind of horror film could easily become a cultural phenomenon. Families might want to see the Abbotts’ dilemma over and over again. Young people might be repeat attenders too.
“A Quiet Place” stretches the well-worn, horror genre way beyond expectations, using sound as its muse. It’s a very thoughtful and emotionally-wrenching experience, mind-blowing and scary as hell.
Dwight Brown is a film critic and travel writer. As a film critic, he regularly attends international film festivals including Cannes, Sundance, Toronto and the American Black Film Festival. Read more movie reviews by Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.