Silence is a risk factor for the modern mainstream film. Used well, it can be atmospherically transformative, and tension-ratcheting. Given audiences’ current predilections toward chat and crunchy foods, however, the prospect of a film primarily steeped in total quiet, as promised by A Quiet Place, is itself a stress-inducing one.
When this assured debut from John Krasinski does properly commit to its silence, it is a white-knuckle chiller of family growth and realistic struggles. Krasinski is husband in reality and onscreen to Emily Blunt, parents navigating a world invaded by a threat that detects its human prey entirely through hyper-sensitive hearing. Their young children are the complicating factor for that otherwise straightforward setup, and ensure that these parents’ best-laid plans never go as smoothly as hoped.
The narrative foundation of A Quiet Place is this need for total silence, and it leads to enjoyable and smart twists on horror forms – we are used to protagonists hiding from chasing beasties and holding their breath, but forcing them to act in the mode at all times regardless of threat level brings tension to the fore well. The film poses a large ‘what if’ with its concept, and comes up with a number of relatively inventive answers, from sand laid to muffle footsteps, to board games using felt instead of plastic game pieces.
The family’s eldest daughter, played by Millicent Simmonds, is deaf; this is another intelligent story beat, explaining the group’s fluent use of sign language and their readiness to lapse into silence. Their inter-relationships, strained by an act of negligence in the film’s opening act, are the main focus of the film’s character development, and provide a kernel of heart that (somewhat glibly) carries the sometimes lazy plotting. This is arguably ho-hum post-apocalyptic stuff, but the film’s central novelty and a sprightly running time helps it to slip past these issues.
Nonetheless, amongst a sense of solid, small-scale world-building, it is also fair to say that Krasinski leans on some fairly tired tropes at times. From heavily foreshadowed twists to unfulfilling jump scares, he is clearly not attempting to test his art-house credentials. This is a crowd-pleaser, and its slightly baffling ending consequently chooses a cool moment over the chance at more profundity. Tension is eked up, but never maintained to genuinely disturbing degrees – the shocks come like clockwork.
But, to his credit, A Quiet Place is also a literally quiet film, refreshingly so. Indeed, when the generic score does interrupt and infiltrate some moments, it does so to the detriment of the picture as a whole. If its creators had been bold enough to sanction a film with no music cues at all, or a far more minimalist score, what an interesting prospect this could have been. As it has been released, it is a fun concept thriller, well-acted and well-made – textbook stuff from the graduating Krasinski.