Director: John Krasinski Starring: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe Running Time: 95 minutes
If asked to pick out the director of the next hit horror movie, Jim from The Office doesn’t spring first to mind, particularly considering John Krasinski’s previous directing credits have been a pair of sub-Sundance, sub-Braffian comedy-dramas. Then again, one half of a sketch show comedy troupe making his first film similarly wouldn’t have been pegged for horror greatness, and with Get Out, Jordan Peele subverted that expectation to the tune of $255 million at the box office, a win at the Oscars and the world at his feet. A pleasant surprise, A Quiet Place is smart-scary with a heart, a film built around a simple and effectively-used idea that demands to be seen in a packed cinema.
Like many a great horror film, the story of A Quiet Place can be summed up in one poster-ready sentence. If they hear you, they hunt you . Starting a few months into the arrival of deadly monsters, with society having already fallen apart (let’s be real we’re about a fortnight away from it happening any moment, monsters or no), A Quiet Place establishes its ‘rules’ from the get-go, with a devastating statement that it is not playing around with its stakes. A young family, Krasinski and real-life-wife Emily Blunt playing the parents, has it underlined for them the hard way – Walk too loudly, speak above the slightest whisper, make any kind of noise that’s too loud, and you’ve had it.
Picking up a year later, the film sets out the survival routine of the family, now living in an abandoned farm. Here, the film reveals itself as an emotional family drama wearing a well-fitting horror suit, thanks to a fantastic performance from Millicent Simmonds as the couple’s eldest child. Emotionally wounded, teenaged and deaf, Simmonds chafes against her father’s protective streak, with him insisting she stay home to look after her heavily pregnant mother while he trains the younger son (Suburbicon‘s Noah Jupe) out in the wilderness. As a deaf actress, Simmonds (also in Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck this year) is the stand out, an impressive feat for a young performer sharing screen time with Emily Blunt, but she not only handily provides a credible grounding for her own character, she lifts the performances of those around her. With spoken dialogue sparse and sign language preferred, Simmonds leads the way in a physical performance, full of subtle but clear gestures and expressions. Building around her performance, the other actors open up to wide eyed, concise, expressive communication. We’re clearly set in each of the four leads’ heads before the scares start ramping up and are long since emotionally invested in the fates of these characters once things start going wrong.
Krasinski keeps the frame sparse; wide shots of empty fields and forests or close ups of the same four people over and over and of course, the film is nearly always silent, it’s clear that a lot of thought has been put into how to keep the audience on the edge of their seat and it works really well, keeping tight tension in the atmosphere throughout. This is jump scares done well, when the silence is broken its deafening, but never cheap, and the short run time and variety of scenarios that crop up keep the gimmick from wearing out its welcome. Krasinski and the writing team of Scott Beck and Bryan Woods deserve a lot of credit; they’ve got a premise that’s built to keep viewers attention on screen and then pay off that attention with a tightly efficient screenplay. In no time at all it sets up what’s happening, who it’s happening to and asks what if-what if-what if through to the end. An exposed nail on a staircase. A woman about to give birth a baby (low on understanding, high on volume). A deaf person versus creatures reliant on their hearing. Some might see the way the film plays out as predictable, but in horror it’s often a good thing to be sure you know what’s coming, and A Quiet Place prompts anxieties with ease.
Krasinski has spoken of the influence of recent horror with a socially conscious streak, like Get Out and 2016’s Don’t Breathe as influencing his film and his own film manages to be intellectually engaging without getting preachy or losing sight of its main aims as a story. Showing the need for people who have been silenced to look out for each other and stand up to violence leave this wide open for interpretation, but the couple behind the camera and the strong family story in front of it give A Quiet Place a firm grounding in parental fears, in protecting your children and making sure they can protect themselves. The result is as emotional as it is frightening and makes for a sophisticated step-up in directing by Krasinski, in one of 2018’s stand-out horrors so far. Tense and well-crafted, there’s plenty to shout about in A Quiet Place.(4 / 5)