Star of the U.S. remake of Ricky Gervais’ The Office and rom-coms ranging from It’s Complicated to License to Wed, you wouldn’t look to John Krasinski to direct a nail-biting, sensory-scintillating horror-thriller. But here we are with A Quiet Place, a film built on a strong concept that delivers on its promise, exploiting the vulnerability of the ear to craft sequences of sweat-dropping tension that shake and exhilarate in equal measure.
Based in a post-apocalyptic future, Krasinski stars as Lee Abbott, husband of Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and father of three, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward). Scavenging for food and spare parts to repair their radio and Regan’s hearing aids, the family also find themselves treading carefully across the time-ravaged land, due to the arrival of mysterious creatures that roam freely: blinded but able to harness an amplified aural range, these monsters demand complete silence in order to survive, a law of endurance that is continually challenged over the film’s runtime.
This idea isn’t necessarily novel, having framed the thrills of former films such as Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe. But never has it been used to such an intense extent: Krasinski and sound editors Erik Aadahl & Ethan Van der Ryn use sound provocatively, testing our nerves as we feel every creak of wood, every spark of fire, every breath of air. Returning to the speechless cinematic language of the past, A Quiet Time requires your full attention, a brilliant strategy for a horror film. As you lean in closer, coaxed in by the film’s faint provision of aural information, the sudden jolt of a scare is made all the more effective. But the fact that it is so seamlessly weaved into the film’s narrative milieu, eschews any possible accusations of gimmickry.
That being said, A Quiet Place does rely a little too heavily on jump scares, a technique I’ve always found to be cheap and a little lazy. When the scares hit hardest, they come about as a result of a slow build-up, subtle foreshadowing or the delicate touch of framing and focus, revealing the looming presence of a creature from behind one of our protagonists. But when they turn to the abrupt blow of a musical note or the immediate eruption of cacophonic sound, it can feel jarring and as a result, fails to produce the desired effect.
That’s not to say that Krasinski’s technique is at all unnoteworthy. The predominantly comedic star has announced himself as the surprise directorial talent of the year, confidently constructing an original project that is clearly built on a moral code he values dearly. Watch any promotional interview with Krasinski and you’ll see the actor/director profess his ambition to portray familial life at its purest, an aspiration that he achieves with flying colours.
The cast are essential to the success of this domestic dynamic. Krasinski himself is excellent as Lee, a father on the cusp of melancholy who maintains a visible resilience, striving to protect his family from the alien threat. Blunt also handles her role beautifully. Evelyn veers close to a stereotype on a number of occasions, but Blunt ensures that her character possesses a strength and intellect that make her stand-out as a formidable female figure within the film. But it is relative newcomer Millicent Simmonds that steals the show. As a deaf actress, it’s refreshing to see her given as much room to work with, as she dexterously balances her role on a difficult tightrope, juggling a sorrowful sentimentality and a steely determination to prove herself. It’s a scene-stealing performance and the highlight of a universally excellent ensemble.
Of course, A Quiet Place falls victim to the usual horror narrative tropes that we’ve seen time and time again. A deus ex machina that conveniently saves our heroes? Check. A daft decision that puts our protagonists in danger? Of course it’s there. A bad case of “Chekov’s Gun”, with a number of objects perpetuating key plot developments? A Quiet Place has it. But it’s so cleverly constituted, so wonderfully performed and so refreshing to the senses that these flaws are mere whispers on the wind. From a sequence involving a bathtub that’ll have you wincing between your fingers, to the depiction of typical household chores, charged with an unnerving energy for fear of the discharge of sound, A Quiet Place populates its runtime with so many memorable moments that it stands, effective immediately, as one of the sounder horror-thrillers of the year so far. Mr. Krasinski, we impatiently hold our breath, awaiting your next foray into filmmaking.