True to its title, John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place tiptoes forward, camera fixed on the naked, padding feet of the Abbott family as they scavenge in a deserted supermarket. A title card announces Day 89 — of what, we don’t know — so we look for clues. Lee and Evelyn (Krasinski and his real-life wife, Emily Blunt) and their three children communicate urgently in sign language, and the youngest child’s interest in a battery-operated toy causes immediate alarm. Their fear is palpable, but what are they afraid of?
Thanks to that darned toy, we’re about to find out, in a perfectly executed attack sequence that establishes the stakes, and the family’s plight, with swift efficiency. Now minus one and watched by flapping posters of other missing souls, the Abbotts return to their farm as the story (by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck) leaps forward more than a year. Evelyn is now preparing to give birth, Lee is teaching his son (Noah Jupe) to forage, and their daughter (played by the remarkable young deaf actor, Millicent Simmonds) is angrily chafing against her parents’ protectiveness.
A welcome alternative to the mind-shredding din of virtually any modern action movie, A Quiet Place is an old-fashioned creature feature with a single, simple hook: The creatures are blind, hungry and navigate by sound. Possessed of craniums that roll open to expose a pulsing, wet membrane, they’re like skittering ear holes with pointy teeth and clattering appendages. Drawing from a variety of heritage horrors, including Alien and Predator, their design is familiar yet effective, their origin kept shrouded. Extraterrestrial beings or man-made weapons gone rogue, they’re a mystery whose source the movie wisely recognises as irrelevant.
Employing a narrative shorthand of news clippings, briefly whispered exchanges and critically placed devices — like a tiny oxygen mask to silence the new baby, and good luck with that — Krasinski (who helped write the screenplay) directs with skill and restraint. He knows that when the sound is turned down, we lean in, and he forces us to pay attention to facial expressions in a way that hearing audiences are rarely required to do. Welcoming this scrutiny, the actors emote like champs: Watching Simmonds cycle through hurt, doubt, anger and acceptance is one of the movie’s singular pleasures.
Photographed by Charlotte Bruus Christensen in soft, slightly faded tones that suggest a world slowly being erased, this stripped-down thriller operates from a central conceit that’s far from uncommon. From The Walking Dead to the Emmy-nominated Hush, a 1999 episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in which spindly supernatural killers steal people’s voices, the relationship between silence and survival has been repeatedly explored. More recently, movies like It Follows and The Babadook have used the absence of sound to create dreamy sequences that throb with unspoken menace.
Taking this device to an extreme that feels strangely novel, Krasinski imposes rigorous restrictions on his cast and crew that produce unexpectedly sensual benefits. The countryside around the farm is a symphony of wind and waterfall and rustling leaves; the production design inside the farmhouse is warm and intimate and crammed with evidence of the family’s intricate strategies to minimise risk. And the full-on action sequences, staged with stalking tension in settings as diverse as a grain silo and a bathtub, are nervily potent.
Neither intellectually deep nor even logically sound (press any soft spot and the whole plot caves in), A Quiet Place feels at odds with a musical score that too often wants to tell us when to jump, and how high. Yet in its convincing portrayal of a situation where a rusty nail is as lethal as an unexploded bomb, and the few remaining inhabitants seem — much like the audience — more likely to die of stress than anything else, the movie rocks. You may go in jaded, but you’ll leave elated or I’ll eat my words.
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‘A Quiet Place’ is out now in the UAE