John Krasinski proves he’s up to the challenge in his debut horror film ‘A Quiet Place.’
Every post-apocalyptic film has its rules. Rules for avoiding monsters that freely roam the earth. Rules for which locations are safe and which must be avoided. Survival rules are often an integral part of these films’ appeal, inspiring audiences to reverse-engineer these story elements from the decisions characters make. They also beg the question: how exactly did the survivors manage to figure all of this out? Just once, I’d like to see a filmmaker tackle the in-between phase of societal collapse and wasteland earth. There has to be at least one great movie set among those all-important learning years.
And to John Krasinski’s credit, he does come close to delivering on this ask. There are plenty of things to admire about his debut horror film A Quiet Place: everything from the sound design to the performances – each actor is deeply invested in the success of their role – combines to make Krasinski’s film a memorable entry into the post-apocalyptic genre. What secures it a special place in my heart, however, is Krasinski’s math; Multiple times throughout A Quiet Place, we are shown the family’s radio room, where his character has meticulously gathered newspaper clippings and handwritten notes about surviving the creatures. It may be a little thing, but it proves that Krasinski, like his character, has put a lot of thought into this world.
Or what’s left of it. It’s been 472 days since the world went silent; humanity, once the planet’s alpha predator, has now been relegated to the fringes of civilization by a race of unearthly creatures who hunt entirely by sound. Despite this, one family has managed to scratch out a sense of normalcy in the quiet. The father (Krasinski) spends his days searching for help on his longwave radio and piecing together the history of the monsters; his wife (Emily Blunt), nearing the end of the most poorly timed pregnancy in film history, prepares a soundproof room for their next child. Everything seems to be going as well as could be under the circumstances… that is until a small mistake brings the creatures down on top of the family.
No words of praise for A Quiet Place can begin without acknowledging the sound designers. Krasinski’s film does not half-ass its premise; only a handful of words are spoken throughout the film’s 95-minute runtime, and each syllable seems selected to provide the maximum amount of impact. Despite this, A Quiet Place is a film teeming with noises. The film’s crew has created a sonic landscape unheard of in horror films, imbuing each small sound – the near-inaudible words that characters mouth as they sign, the shuffle of padded feet on trails of sand – with meaning. In the rare moments that characters do speak, the harshness of their words seems to block out the measured quiet of the rest of the film. I find myself almost disappointed the characters didn’t speak less; that’s how you know that you’ve created something special.
It’s also easy to appreciate how Krasinski builds the relationship between his character and that of his daughter (played by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds). There’s a rift between the two that encompasses more than just adolescent rebellion. In his efforts to protect his family, the father character often chooses to sideline his daughter in favor of his unprepared younger son. A Quiet Place never comes out and admits this is because the daughter is deaf, but the way she is treated – the sad look that Krasinski’s character often has when regarding her from afar – demonstrates his sense that she is a broken piece in need of fixing. In interviews, Krasinski has noted that he cast Simmonds in part so he could learn from her, and the father’s ableism, well-meaning or not, adds a powerful element of authenticity to the film’s final sequence.
For as carefully as Krasinski and company build out their world in the movie’s first-half, though, A Quiet Place begins to stumble in its liveliest moments. The film’s entire back nine is a giant set-piece; once Krasinski has established the board on which his characters play, he begins to move them through a prolonged and somewhat redundant chase scene from house, to field, to farm again. This leads to some incredibly effective scares – I will certainly never look at a basement staircase in quite the same way – but it also causes A Quiet Place to move through story points in an unwieldy manner. These are the kind of problems that are only amplified by the film’s incredible opening; once you establish the tone of your film, you’d better have a strong sense of why it needs to change, and A Quiet Place pivots awkwardly between atmosphere and action right when it has the audience eating from the palm of its hand.
Still, A Quiet Place remains the rare thing: a horror film from a major studio that blends high-concept with jump scares and manages to pull both of them off. Krasinski may not be the first name you think of when it comes to contemporary horror films, but after A Quiet Place, he’s raised the bar for how filmmakers should consider sound in their movie. Here’s hoping he finds the genre to his liking and sticks around for a while.