Nothing in John Krasinski’s past would indicate that he had a film like “A Quiet Place” in him, and yet here we are. The onetime sitcom heartthrob has delivered a film that is not just frightening, but intimate and character driven. Sitting in the theater I was reminded of films like “The Descent” and “The Mist,” which similarly play on audience sympathies to up the scare factor by giving us characters we care about.
From the first frame, “A Quiet Place” strikes an eerie, ominous tone. A family trip to a supermarket in shambles is a masterful example of the gradual ratcheting of tension. The opening also does a fantastic job of quickly laying a framework for the world and the family, and it does it all in shorthand. We have a firm understanding of who these people are before the title card comes up.
After that opening scene, before things get crazy, the film takes its time with these people, exploring them and their world. In doing this, it invites the audience to invest in them, and that investment pays off in tightly grasped armrests when director and co-writer Krasinski fully unsheathes the malevolence of the film’s creatures.
While dialogue in the film is scarce, sound is vitally important, and it is used expertly here. I’ve never had a passionate opinion about sound editing and mixing going into previous Oscar seasons, but I will for the next Oscars, because each crack of a branch, creak of a door or buzz of a light here is designed to play audience fears like an orchestra.
Krasinski also wisely opts for the Spielberg method of showing off his monsters, which is to say he doesn’t. Much like in “Jaws,” the aliens in this film, which have no sense of sight or smell and can only detect prey via sound, spend most of their time off camera. When they are seen, up until the end of the film, it is piecemeal, allowing the audience to build the most horrifying thing they can imagine in their own heads.
He also decides to keep the origins of the aliens for the most part unexplained, which helps to put the audience in the mindset of the characters, who are seen to be constantly seeking out any intel they can find on the beasts.
There are a few minor gripes to be had with the film. A scene at a waterfall doesn’t seem completely necessary, and a pregnancy subplot involving Emily Blunt’s character made me ask myself more than once why anyone would want to bring a screaming infant into this nightmare world. But those are minor quibbles.
Beyond the stellar craftsmanship, the film is wonderfully acted. Krasinski brings a sad but determined energy to his character. Blunt is sympathetic, and the child actors are both great, especially Millicent Simmonds, who deftly handles the most dramatically demanding role in the film with aplomb.
“A Quiet Place” is a fantastically menacing horror achievement, a nasty bit of business with a warm heart at its core. It is deserving of the praise it has received, and it lives up to the hype. I’ve never been a big fan of Krasinski, but I can’t wait to see what he does next now, and nobody is more surprised than me to hear me say that.