Release: Friday, April 6, 2018
Written by: Bryan Woods; Scott Beck; John Krasinski
Directed by: John Krasinski
Starring: John Krasinski; Emily Blunt; Millicent Simmonds; Noah Jupe
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
As a relatively newly minted father himself, actor-director-Scranton prankster John Krasinski seems to be sharing with us in his horror debut something deeply personal, an epiphany that has struck him, like it might another parent, as horrifying: There will eventually come a day when your children need you and you just can’t be there for them. Whether that is by way of natural order or unfortunate circumstance, it is an inevitability. It is this deep-seated yet commonly-held fear of failure that has given birth to A Quiet Place.
For a filmmaker who has confessed to generally avoiding consuming scary films, Krasinski seems scary natural at the craft. I was going to try and omit the horror label in my review — I find A Quiet Place more an acutely distressing survivalist thriller than a bona fide SCARY MOVIE — but then I had an epiphany of my own. Scary movie, survival thriller, those are semantics and phooey on them. A Quiet Place is just a good movie period, a delicious and consistent batter of chilling supernatural thrills and heartbreaking human drama, and a strong credit to a résumé that has heretofore touted lovable goofballs and hopeless romantics. That we learn through some rather nerve-shredding trials just how much of a family man Krasinski really is is a bonus.
His film, an original story first conceived in 2013 by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck which he later reworked himself, tells of a young family trying to maintain some sense of normalcy in their lives in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by terrifying creatures that hunt by sound. Krasinski stars as head of household and de facto frontiersman Lee Abbott, and in a bit of potentially gimmicky casting that quickly proves to be anything but, he casts his real wife Emily Blunt in the role of his tough-as-nails (pun not intended) on-screen wife Evelyn. Lee and Evelyn have three kids in tow, each played magnificently by the young actors — little Beau (Cade Woodward), middle child Marcus (Noah Jupe) and eldest Regan (deaf actress Millicent Simmonds).
In the aftermath of some unexplained catastrophe life is now governed by one simple but vitally important rule — keep as quiet as possible at all times. This is more a family policy as we don’t meet very many strangers, but we can assume the same applies to anyone who doesn’t wish to get eviscerated at 100 miles an hour. We can infer from an opening title card that it is the couple’s resourcefulness and determination that has enabled the family to navigate a strange and oppressive world for at least three months. Like the Abbotts’ daily routine, A Quiet Place is an exercise in restraint, and I was reminded immediately of this concept of rule-abiding and extreme isolation that was intensely focused upon in Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes At Night — incidentally one of those modern titles that has encouraged Krasinski to give horror another chance.
A Quiet Place opens up at the pace of spilt molasses as compared to the chaos in which it concludes, but these first scenes are crucial in earning our sympathy. Krasinski’s meticulous planning is on full display as we are taken on a guided tour through the detritus of their humble community while the group endures a hair-raising tiptoeing from their farmhouse-cum-fortress to gather essential supplies. Credit the writing how a lack of detail with regards to the big picture actually enhances the experience while in smaller moments and individual scenes the complete opposite holds true — detail is everything. The gravel paths, color-coded Christmas lights, dinners and game nights on soft surfaces are little bits of consideration that generally offset Krasinski’s clumsier spells as director (his foreshadowing is pretty on-the-nose, for example).
Like the aforementioned primitive thriller of yesteryear, A Quiet Place relies heavily upon its technical department to evoke mood. Krasinski differentiates himself by doubling down on aural stimulation, nearly gutting the screenplay entirely of spoken dialogue and having his characters communicate largely through sign language and simple gesticulations. This isn’t a technique employed just to give agency to Simmonds’ character, whose deafness eventually becomes vital to the plot, but it is a matter of practicality that brings attention to all the ways in which we take verbal communication for granted.
Admittedly, the brilliant sound design is likely what audiences will leave the theater talking about more than anything. It makes sense. Like Mike Flanagan’s Hush, a home invasion thriller that debated whether an immunity to sound works to one’s advantage in situations that require heightened sensory awareness, silence becomes a character unto itself in A Quiet Place. Yet it becomes something more than just a theme park attraction. Here, silence comes in different forms — as punishment meted out by a frustrated child to their parents whose rules they perceive to be unfair; as the result of a physical condition that could well be the deciding factor in whether a character lives or dies; as the gut-wrenching aftermath of something or somebody lost.
The premise doesn’t boil down to much beyond good guys outwitting (or flat-out avoiding) their nameless and faceless opponents in a stripped-down, neo-western setting. That is unfairly reductive to the point of being inaccurate, though. A Quiet Place offers a road map for nervous new parents who are trying to figure things out for the first time and find themselves struggling more often than succeeding. It is part coming-of-age for Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds, part-labor of love for a filmmaker who has come to appreciate the unique entertainment value of the genre, and a thrilling, surprisingly emotional adventure for the rest of us.
Moral of the Story: John Krasinski’s family values are things I came to admire in A Quiet Place. More pleasantly surprising to me was that he doesn’t smash you over the head with his sense of scruples. That element is absolutely there but in my view he isn’t asking anyone to side with him. In fact the whole point of the exercise is to challenge us and to make us question what we would do as parents in this situation. What would we do similarly? What would we do differently? And all-around strong performances from an innately likable cast only solidify A Quiet Place as a must-see film for fans of John Krasinski and Emily Blunt.
Running Time: 90 mins.
Quoted: “I love you. I’ve always loved you.”
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