Here is a thriller that has been constructed and executed so perfectly that it almost seems effortless. John Krasinski's A Quiet Place
is a cinematic short story that wastes no time. It sets us into its world and introduces and allows us to sympathize with its main characters in a matter of minutes. It then uses atmosphere and economic story telling to wrap us into its plot in a way that few horror films have ever even attempted. Each scene seems designed to raise the stakes, either emotionally with the characters, or through the physical threat that is hunting them. This is as lean, tight, and as intense a thriller as you are likely to see.
The film opens with a title card reading "Day 89", and then drops us into a mostly abandoned post-apocalyptic world. Through scattered newspapers that are lying about on the street, we see reports of some kind of possibly alien menace that are attracted to and hunt their victims by sound, and have apparently wiped out a majority of the world's population. We are then introduced to a family of survivors. Krasinski (who co-wrote the script, as well as directs and stars) plays the unnamed father who has devoted his life to keeping his family alive during and after the attack. His real-life wife, Emily Blunt, is the mother, and their three children are played by Millicent Simmonds (from last year's Wonderstruck
), Noah Jupe (from Suburbicon
) and Cade Woodward. The family has survived this long because they speak to each other in sign language, with subtitles provided for the audience. Their eldest daughter is deaf (as is young Millicent Simmonds in real life), so we have a hunch that knowing sign language in advance has become a survival tool in a world where the slightest sound can attract the giant creatures who are usually hiding in the trees or bushes before they strike.
The family walks slowly on tiptoes through a local store, looking for food and medical supplies, as one of the two boys appears to be ill. Through this brilliantly executed opening sequence, we learn not only about the threat to the family, but also how they survive and interact with one another, all without a single spoken word of dialogue. But on their way out of the store, the youngest child finds a loud battery-operated toy and activates it, which pretty much seals his fate with the monstrous creatures that lurk unseen. The film flashes forward to about a year later, and the event we have witnessed obviously still weighs heavily on the family. We also learn that the mother is now pregnant, and almost due. This creates an obvious problem, as giving birth to and raising a baby in a world where silence is the only way to survive is almost a death sentence. Still, the father is determined to keep his family alive, and continuously pours over research to try to figure out how these monsters can be killed. He also endlessly sends out radio distress signals from his basement, hoping to contact other survivors. Aside from one brief sequence, we don't see anyone else alive, so this family may be all that's left.
A Quiet Place
is an entirely visual film. There is almost no spoken dialogue, and just about any sound in the movie is used as an instant moment of tension. We also see how the family avoids making the slightest noise. For example, in one scene, the kids are playing Monopoly, and they are using small pieces of cloth as their pieces, rather than the traditional game pieces which would obviously make tapping sounds on the board. Krasinski's direction is also effective at setting up things that could cause a problem for the family in the future, such as an exposed nail sticking out of a basement step. He is able to generate suspense out of the slightest object, such as a kitchen timer or an object hanging precariously off a shelf. This style is subtle, and helps pull us further into the world that the movie exists in.
The movie also displays a brilliantly economical way of storytelling. Not a single shot is wasted here, and almost every moment is used to further the suspense or the characters. I will have to be careful not to go into spoilers here, but this is as much about the family banding together as it is about surviving the monster threat that is constantly present. This is as much an emotional drama as it is a thriller, and it succeeds at both. And when the monsters do finally appear to threaten the family, the movie creates the same kind of tension that Ridley Scott's original Alien
created, with a creature that we do not fully understand, but is able to hunt its victims usually using just hearing and cunning speed. It is the fact that we do not fully understand the threat or the world the movie inhabits that keeps us riveted. We know just enough to understand, but we don't really know much detail. That makes the survival of the family at the center that much more uncertain. Here is the rare thriller where we don't know the outcome when we walk in the theater.
If there is a solitary flaw to be found in A Quiet Place
, it is the overblown music score by Marco Beltrami, which spells out every emotion and scare, when the actors do such a superb job of doing this just with their faces and emotions. I almost wished there was no music in the film, making the experience of watching it completely consuming to the audience. Regardless, this is a brilliant horror film, one of the better ones we are likely to see. It is also a strong contender to be one of the great films of 2018.