“A Quiet Place,” out April 6, is John Krasinski’s first horror film. Best known as Jim from “The Office,” Krasinski’s not a stranger to the director’s chair, but this is his first picture that has critics making some noise. Here, Krasinski, Emily Blunt (“Sicario,” they’re married IRL), Noah Jupe (“Suburbicon”) and Millicent Simmonds (“Wonderstruck”) play a family that must stay silent to survive. Do Krasinki and the cast make the most of that hook, or is the movie quietly forgettable? Here’s what the reviews say:
Shhhh — Everything In The Movie Hinges On Silence
The story — from a screenplay co-written by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, and John Krasinski, who also directs and stars — is post-apocalyptic, set in the very near future, around 2020. We pick up 89 days into an event that seems to have wiped out most of Earth’s population.
One family — a father (Krasinski), mother (Blunt, who’s married to Krasinski off-screen) and their children; I don’t think we ever heard anyone’s name — remains, and we quickly learn that the family’s survival is due to their ability to live on their rural farm in silence. They speak in sign language and the faintest of whispers; they walk barefoot; they eat off lettuce leaves rather than clanking plates. Why? These monsters, we learn with a shiver, are triggered by sound.
Thankfully, The Sound Design Lives Up To The Premise
As you might expect in a movie that hinges on sound, the mix of silence with noises variously environmental, exposing, and terrifying, coupled with the occasional music-laced excitement (Marco Beltrami composed the score), is spot on.
For a movie with such sparse dialogue, “A Quiet Place” often gives way to annoying bursts of shrieking strings to jolt its audience, as if they can’t be trusted to find the disquieting mood sufficiently freaky. (It’s almost like producer Michael Bay kept turning up the volume, before Krasinski could bat his hand away). Thankfully, Marco Beltrami’s score largely sticks to a low rumble that hovers on the same wavelength as the characters’ unease.
A film that demands silence of its characters implicitly demands the same of the people watching it, and it’s strange, even admirable, how effective A Quiet Place can be when you realize that you’re holding your breath not only as a natural reaction to suspense, but in abidance of the rules of the movie. You’re not in danger, but you might find yourself inadvertently behaving as if you were.
The Kid Actors Are Particularly Impressive
A highlight of the otherwise forgettable Suburbicon, Jupe has a winning rapport with Krasinski that enhances this complicated father-son relationship at the end of the world.
Simmonds leverages her real-life experience as a deaf teenager to deliver a deeply convincing portrait of a girl who feels shut out of her own family, but it’s Jupe who is the most astonishing silent actor of the film, dishing up paralyzed, soundless terror in several different flavors.
At Points ‘A Quiet Place’ Can Be Obvious Or Cloying…
Even all these years after The Office left the air, there’s something permanently Jim-like about Krasinski—a well-meaning niceness that’s pleasant but also a bit cloying. What’s remarkable about A Quiet Place is how often he puts aside that quality, which infected his first two films, to honor his pitiless story. But ultimately, he can’t resist the urge to indulge in a little schmaltz.
A slow camera pan past the Abbotts’ many, many excruciating weeks of deep research and careful insight (from the whiteboard: “What are their weaknesses?” “SOUND”) makes it seem like the movie’s in on a joke very much worth telling about survival-as-genre. Ditto to a guffaw-worthy magical childbirth, and especially to the makeshift, soundproof crib devised for that occasion, which made me squeal at its inventive ridiculousness.
… But Most Of That Serves The Tension And Horror Well
The introduction of needing to be silent, the discovery of what the aliens look like, and the presentation of the ecosystem that has developed since their arrival is all fascinating, but the risk with such films is that, eventually, we’ll grow accustomed to the conceit and get restless. Krasinski and his writers sidestep the problem not just by keeping A Quiet Place short but by concocting enough variations on “Seriously, don’t make a noise” that we stay sucked into the storytelling.
Sure, it feels a bit contrived at times. (Most horror films do.) But as the dominoes start to fall, one by one, there’s a cathartic thrill to seeing how carefully they were arranged in the first place. Small elements that surfaced earlier in the film come back, like some kind of scavenger hunt, putting family members in danger and extracting them from it.
Turns out Evelyn is pregnant (the movie tastefully denies us what would have been the quietest sex scene ever), and ends up going into labor at a very inopportune time—a diabolical twist that allows Blunt to perform a superb pantomime of suppressed pain and fear, realizing a Scientologist’s insane ideal for childbirth.
It’s Certainly Krasinski’s Best Directing Work Yet
A Quiet Place is Krasinski’s third film as director, after his misguided adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews With Hideous Men (2009) and the generic family drama The Hollars (2016). Neither of those movies suggested that “Jim” from TV’s The Office was a filmmaker bursting with talent — breaking news: Not all actors were born to direct. That makes it a bit of a shock that A Quiet Place feels like the work of an old pro who has been newly inspired.
Whether you’re in it for the ride, or the story of loved ones under siege, it’s safe to say nobody could have expected Krasinski (after two unassuming features, including the dysfunctional-clan dramedy “The Hollars”) to have this in him as a director. Maybe for some filmmakers sincerely interested in human emotions, all they need to show their stuff is to add monsters.
The Movie’s Familial Themes And Climactic Act May Or May Not Come Together For You
The success of the film hinges almost entirely on the way in which real-life couple and parents Blunt and Krasinski pour their fears about raising children into their performances here. As is the case with most successful, spare horror films of late, A Quiet Place has much more to say about its humans than its monsters and is especially invested in the ways families fail to communicate even their most basic needs to each other.
A Quiet Place seems to really want a cathartic victory for its characters, but can’t get one without undermining the larger premise. After all, this is supposed to be one family up against a force that’s destroyed civilization, and the film is better when the characters aren’t incredible, heroic exceptions.
A Quiet Place is a classic example of a film that needed to be either better or worse to really be good. It needed either to embrace that it’s a dumb horror movie populated by dumb people making dumb choices and revel in that fact, as its premise is more than prepared to do, or to earn its self-seriousness with real complication and compassion, preferably something beyond poorly scripted dramatic arcs and the lonesome Americana of Krasinski’s beard. Rustic tones and well-choreographed images may obviate the former, but they don’t automatically add up to the latter.
A Quiet Place is unique high-concept science fiction that’s grounded solidly in human drama. Some horror movies imbue a seemingly harmless place or object with newfound danger. A Quiet Place may not make audiences afraid of wearing shoes or talking — but it might make those things feel luxurious, however momentarily.