It’s Day 89 of we’re-not-sure-what, and the Abbott family are out shopping for supplies.
Barefoot, they creep across a shop floor. We don’t know how it happened, we don’t know why it happened; all we know is that they can’t make a sound. As we soon learn, there’s something deadly out there waiting to hunt them down if they do.
The family have adjusted to living without noise. They play Monopoly with pom poms, eat dinner off leaves instead of plates, have tracks painted on the floor so as to avoid creaky boards, and create tracks out of sand to mask the sound of their footsteps.
But, with a deaf daughter and another baby due imminently, the peace won’t last forever.
A Quiet Place is co-written, directed by and starring John Krasinski; or as you may know him, Jim from The US Office. This is only his third feature film, and may seem quite a departure from the comedy stuff you’ve seen from him before. But, despite not thinking of himself as a horror fan, he pulls off this silent-but-deadly horror absolutely masterfully, giving us high hopes for whatever he does next from behind the camera.
It also stars his real life wife Emily Blunt as his fictional one here, as well as Millicent Simmonds as hearing-impaired daughter Regan (Millicent herself is also deaf IRL) and Noah Jupe as young son Marcus.
You’d think that a film with barely any dialogue might be dull, hard to engage with, and make it challenging to connect with the characters – but you’d be wrong. It’s the silence here that makes this high-level concept work so well.
It’s extremely rare for a film to draw you in and put you on edge as instantly as A Quiet Place does. From the first moments you’re hyper aware of how potentially noisy everything can be – Krasinski uses foreshadowing incredibly well to grab hold of you and he doesn’t let go for the whole 90 minutes.
The lack of noise and seeing the characters creep around so carefully creates tension straight away, and this only gets more intense as the jeopardy increases.
Watching this movie, you’re so aware of the cinematic experience – every rummage in a bag of popcorn or crunch of a crisp makes you realise you’re in a room full of strangers, all enjoying the communal act of being scared and surprised by this film simultaneously.
Because A Quiet Place is so, well, quiet, the visual motifs it uses are key for communicating with the audience, and they work so well – there’s lightbulbs strung around their big country house that look beautiful as well as signalling danger, and your fists clench just that little bit tighter every time you see someone put their fingers to their lips.
You could say there’s a little too much obvious visual exposition, too. Down in the basement we see newspaper cuttings and ‘hunt by sound?’ 3 nearby?’ handily written on whiteboards, but the runtime is so short and snappy that you forgive them for getting the message across concisely. There’s not much time wasted on world-building, or explaining what the creatures are and where they came from – but it doesn’t need it.
The thing that sets A Quiet Place apart from other movies of its kind is how it really makes you care about these characters. The film starts with a devastating event that sets up all kinds of emotional undertones for the family, and is full of compelling character beats that get you totally invested in them as a unit – Emily Blunt talking to her son about being there when she’s old and grey; Krasinski and Simmonds struggling to connect as father and daughter, with him trying to build her a hearing aid; a rare few seconds of freedom between father and son.
At one point, Blunt and Krasinski share a tender moment as a couple where they listen to music via earphones and do a slow dance. Their real life marriage surely helps with the chemistry, but it’s such a subtle and romantic moment that reminds you that you’re watching a real family trying to deal with this horror, and the quietness makes it all the more meaningful.
Including a deaf character in Millicent Simmond’s Regan is a strong move both in terms of plot (it helps explain how they were able to stay so quiet for so long, as they already knew how to silently communicate) and poignancy. The delivery of sign language between the family, the timing the actors manage to convey using only their hands – it gives the signed words just as much gravitas as if they were spoken out loud.
There is some sound, though. There’s small bits of dialogue – just enough for some of the lines to verge into cliche – and a shrieking, startling score is used to amp up the scary moments, of which there are plenty.
A Quiet Place isn’t holding back on horror. It’s got you wound so tightly that the jump scares have more impact than they would otherwise, and seeing the characters clasp their hands over their mouths in the most terrifying of moments only makes it all the more tense.
The scares really come to a climax around halfway through, when those waters break and the shit hits the fan. It’s one of the best horror sequences you’ll see in a while, the timing expertly pulled off to maximum effect. From there it becomes somewhat predictable as it turns into a monster-hunts-people movie, but still delivers a satisfying though not totally mind-blowing ending.
Memorable for it’s concept and character rather than structure or tropes, A Quiet Place is an original, masterfully directed film that makes for an incredibly tense and cinematic experience – so catch it there if you can. A strong 4 stars.