A Quiet Place is the kind of smart genre film that understands it’s often far more important to focus on the human elements of your genre story than the actual genre conventions. This is a story about a broken family learning to heal, set against the backdrop of a horrifying dystopian survival scenario. Director John Krasinski has an incredibly deft and confident hand in his direction, wringing moments and scenes for all they’re worth. With nary a line of dialog in sight, he focuses on moments of physical intimacy and sign language between the family members. A mother making her son laugh, an angsty teenage daughter pouting in her room, a husband and wife dancing silently, to music only they can hear. We’re taught how each of them interact, what their routines are. He lays out the geography of their farm and their habits therein. Moments are expertly arranged, set up, and paid off. There is very little fat on this lean thriller.
Krasinski also stars alongside real-life wife Emily Blunt as the heads of a family of survivors, with Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds as their children.1 We meet the family on the eve of a huge change in their lives, and most of the film unspools over the course of a single day and night. Krasinski has revealed to himself to be a fascinating talent in the last several years, not content to rest on the laurels of his success as Jim from The Office. He challenges and exceeds himself in each new project. A Quiet Place is no different. His portrait of a father struggling with pressure, guilt, and forgiveness is beautifully wrought in his eyes and demeanor. Emily Blunt is a tender but tough mother, capable of great acts to keep her family safe from harm. Jupe and Simmonds are capable as the children, although Simmonds (both portraying a deaf character and deaf in real life) gets the most moments to shine.
The real star of the film, though, is the sound mixing and design. In any horror film, the music and the way sound operates is hugely integral to the films ability to guide the audience through its experience. In A Quiet Place, you’ll forgive the allusion, this import is turned up to 11. Getting a 2018 opening night audience to keep practically silent, especially when the film itself is so quiet, is no easy feat. Krasinski keeps us very aware of perspective shifts, not just visually, but aurally, as well. There are long stretches where we quietly experience the world the way the characters do, so when sound violently punctuates the scene its effect is that much more powerful. The editing is often exemplary; this movie does an incredible job of building and releasing tension throughout a run of stunning scenes of survival.
Krasinski gets a little obtuse at times with the information he’s communicating to us, and when the characters do actually get to speak, it can be ham-fisted in a way that feels dissonant with the quiet focus of the rest of the film. The ending is also just shy of camp, and is so at odds tonally that I can only imagine Krasinski struggled with using it or not. It’s a testament to how well crafted the rest of the film is that those elements don’t detract too heavily from the experience of watching and engaging with this tightly wound film.
One of the signs of a good film is that it affects you in a profound or visceral way. It’s a powerful movie that can shift your perspective or attack your senses in a way that changes your experience with them. Stepping out of A Quiet Place and being confronted with the loudness of the world throws into sharp relief what a rich, subtle, and intimate experience this movie is.