Review: A Quiet Place Embraces Its Genre, and Masters It

John Krasinski (who you most likely know as Jim from The Office) has directed three features films: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men in 2009; The Hollars in 2016; and now A Quiet Place, a thriller set in a world resigned to silence as blind monsters ruthlessly prey on any creature—human or otherwise—that makes a loud noise. It’s a case of third-time’s-the-charm for the sitcom actor turned filmmaker; already, A Quiet Place is set to outpace his two previous efforts in both box office and critical acclaim.

A Quiet Place
Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Krasinski makes A Quiet Place, about a family of five, a family affair, casting himself as Lee Abbott and real-life wife Emily Blunt as Evelyn Abbott, and the dynamic, often a risky choice, works. As one would expect, they have an easy approachability on screen, and the minute we meet the Abbots—including daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and son Marcus (Noah Jupe)—we’re in on the action. There’s no need to spend much time getting to know them in order to connect with them. Instead, the film jumps right into orienting us into this version of reality.

Here, absolutely no noise is allowed. Everyone walks barefoot to avoid loud steps, and there are trails of sand everywhere to deaden footsteps even further. Wooden floors are painted with paths to indicate how to avoid creaking, and everyone relies on sign language to communicate. Because, as we learn, the monsters who’ve invaded are fast and they are deadly; make one wrong move—one wrong sound—and you’re a goner. It’s a credit to the script that these stakes are made undeniably clear very early on; it wouldn’t be a spoiler to say that the writers have no qualms about killing their darlings within the opening scenes, just to drive the point home.

The bulk of the film is spent on one (relatively speaking) very ordinary day that turns very extraordinary, indeed. Lee spends time in his lab, a basement space wallpapered with newspapers heralding the invasion and progression of the monsters and filled to the ceiling with monitors keeping watch over the farm he and his family have settled into. He attempts to contact other survivors via Morse Code in between working on making the perfect hearing aid for Regan, who uses sign language to communicate not just because of the monsters, but because she’s also actually deaf.

Meanwhile, Evelyn tends to the house and chores, cleaning their underground (read: muffled) living space and homeschooling the two kids. By midday, Lee enlists Marcus in the day’s hunt at the river (we’re fully post-apocalyptic here, empty grocery stores, no simple conveniences) and something has annoyed pre-teen Regan and she’s jetted off in a huff.

This first half of the film is quite somber, sad even, as we learn about the kind of life the Abbotts are forced to live, always hunted, always nervous to make a misstep. They’ve retreated into the reality of a life led silently, almost monastically, where everything is slow, deliberate and intentional in order not to make a sound; you can’t even scream in anger when your parents piss you off. The score, too, is slow and mournful, in a way that might even lull you into thinking that while things might be bad, at least they’re making a go of it.

Of course, the stability can’t last, and it’s here that—and I mean this in the best way possible—A Quiet Place becomes a tried-and-true horror flick, one totally dependent on the conventions of the genre and one that entirely relishes in them, as well. As the plot intensifies, it’s a series of “How will they get out of this one?” set-ups and resolutions, some with better outcomes than others (and some requiring more watching-though-your-fingers than others). Though a few moments slip into cliche territory (a bloody hand slapped onto glass), even these work, as Krasinski and crew lean fully into the kind of film they’re making.

It’d be easy to draw comparisons between A Quiet Place and last year’s blockbuster original horror film Get Out, but that’s selling both films short. A Quiet Place lacks the nuance and layers of Get Out; it possesses none of the societal commentary or political and racial undertones. But that’s not a knock on A Quiet Place. Where it excels is in its two-armed embrace of the genre; it’s the kind of horror film that’s equal parts scary and fun to experience.

It’s an intense right, albeit a short one. There’s a saying new filmmakers hear time and time again when they ask how long their movie should be: exactly as long as it needs to be, not a minute more or a minute less. At a crisp 90 minutes, Krasinski has achieved just that, cutting to black at exactly the right moment. We’ve come a long way with the Abbotts, been through a lot together. And while it might be fun to see what happens next, the satisfaction of that final shot comes as much from what it includes as what it leaves out.

Lisa Trifone
Lisa Trifone