On a remote farm, the Abbotts – father Lee (John Krasinski), mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt), teen daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), and younger son Marcus (Noah Jupe) live a life of quiet solitude. And by quiet, we mean absolutely silent – they communicate by sign language, muffle all potential sources of sound, strew their paths with sand lest they tread on a twig or dry leaf, keep no livestock or pets. Why? Because the woods around their house is infested with a number of powerful, horrifically violent creatures who hunt by sound, ruthlessly and brutally slaughtering anyone who attracts their attention.
It’s an untenable status quo – even the slightest lapse in noise discipline could spell instant death for the whole family. And something will go wrong – even if Marcus, traumatised by an earlier event, doesn’t panic and slip up; even if Regan, who is deaf, accidentally makes a noise she can’t hear… Evelyn is heavily pregnant, and if keeping two older children quiet is a challenge, try giving birth and then raising a baby!
A kind of sense-inverted riff on John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, A Quiet Place takes an intriguing and original variant of the old “cosy catastrophe” premise and uses it as a scalpel to cut into a whole knotted nexus of parental anxieties. At its heart, the film is about being terrified that you haven’t prepared your children for the harsh realities of the world, that you will fail to keep them safe, either because you weren’t careful enough or they just didn’t listen, dammit. Lee and Evelyn’s logical, methodical approach to the day-to-day grind of survival is all but watertight, but can any preparations stand against a moody girl acting out, or a young boy terrified of the horrors he knows exist?
It’s all framed using a formal conceit that simply wouldn’t fly as well in any other format or medium: the almost complete absence of dialogue. So many film and TV dramas are radio plays with moving pictures – works that don’t actually require you to keep your eyes on the screen to stay on track of the narrative. Conversely, the multiplexes are dominated by spectacle designed to all but push you back in your cinema seat, eyelids peeled back by all the wonder the rendering farms of South East Asia can produce. By virtue of its own carefully selected formal constraints A Quiet Place demands close attention, once again placing visual information in a place of primacy, even as it builds a subtle soundscape to augment that info and raise your arm hairs. It’s an arresting film, and it’s a story best told in film; indeed, one suspects that it won’t fare nearly so well on home release, where a lounge room’s worth of distractions will deaden its impact considerably.
In the theatrical space, though, it’s hell on wheels, and an impressive achievement for Krasinski as a filmmaker (A Quiet Place marks his third at bat following 2009’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and 2016’s The Hollars). The world created here is not, strictly speaking, a realistic one; a few minutes’ post-screening rumination punctures its assumptions pretty fatally (farting, as far too many social media would-be class clowns have noted, would be fatal in this universe), but it works perfectly and wonderfully on the screen and in the moment. As a director, Krasinksi demonstrates an admirable command of the tools at his disposal. Yes, there are moments of gore and action, but A Quiet Place works because it carefully and knowingly deploys an impressive array of simple, old school tricks of the trade to best effect. “Hitchcockian” is a cliche these days, and stylistically there’s not a lot here to connect Krasinski with the old master, but thinking purely in terms of building suspense, of raising and releasing tension, of set up and pay off – it’s appropriate. What we have here is a deliberate and carefully constructed film that never feels self-conscious, that never reveals its artifice in a gauche or deal-breaking manner.
Which is rare – the desire to be seen as an auteur with a singular voice drives a lot of filmmakers to overplay their hands, stylistically speaking. In contrast, Krasinski feels like a classicist, which ironically makes him stand out from the pack. While the use of sound here is the hook, the success of the film rests almost purely on simple, old-fashioned filmmaking skill, and that’s a trick Krasinski has down cold.