“A Quiet Place” is a taut, disturbing apocalyptic thriller with one of the best premises I’ve seen in a horror movie. It’s about a family living in utter silence in order to survive a gangly praying-mantis-like monster that hunts by sound. “Stay Silent, Stay Alive,” warns the daily paper. But this movie isn’t your typical jump-scare fare. John Krasinski — pulling triple duty as director, co-writer and star — has more on his mind. In between the genre tropes is a slick metaphor on parenthood and the lengths moms and dads will go to prepare and protect their children. “Who are we if we can’t protect them?” one character whispers in a rare moment of dialogue.
This is Krasinski’s third time behind the camera (“Hollars,” “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”) and he wastes no time in setting the chilling mood. The movie gets under way on Day 89. The world is a total wasteland. Krasinski smartly casts his real-life wife, Emily Blunt (“The Girl on the Train”), to star opposite him as, yes, his wife. She’s Evelyn to his Lee, parents trying to keep their family alive months after the aural-sensitive creatures devastate the population. To quell noise, the Abbotts walk barefoot and communicate with their three children (Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cade Woodward) via sign language, expression and gesture. It’s the longest game of “quiet” these kids will ever play.
In the opening shot, Evelyn steps gingerly through an abandoned market searching for supplies. A toy rocket ship distracts the youngest boy. If that thing makes a sound, they’re all dead. Lee carefully removes the batteries, averting crisis. But more peril waits around the corner, and you don’t have to be a horror aficionado to know something will go horribly wrong. Then, jump ahead to Day 472, when the script, co-written by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, finds the Abbott clan burdened with guilt. Resourcefully, they’ve carved out an isolated and peaceful existence, but terror lingers. Those creatures will attack at any sound.
There are only seven credited actors in the cast, but the standout is Simmonds, who is deaf in real life. She was terrific in last year’s underrated “Wonderstruck,” and she brings the same pathos to Regan, the boundary-pushing teenager who feels like an outsider. Jupe, the scene-stealer from “Wonder,” plays younger brother, Marcus. Overacting is usually de rigueur in horror films, but no one goes overboard. The performances are anchored in genuine human emotion. Blunt’s character is called upon to do, well, let’s just say, she really delivers. Krasinski the actor is in full survivalist mode, while Krasinski the director shows he’s got a knack for building tension and suspense. The movie is a taut 95 minutes and you might cringe the whole time. There’s a bit with a nail protruding from a floorboard that I can’t shake. The silence is deafening, as well as unsettling and gripping — all at the same time. The ambient noises of the audience — chewing popcorn, coughing, a cell phone vibrating — also add to the mood. It’s a strange feeling.
Krasinski deserves credit, too, for not selling out his premise. He sticks to the rules he creates early on without too much plot manipulation in later frames. In other words, he doesn’t back himself into a corner, which is typical of these high-concept narratives. More than just frights fill the screen. Yes, the silence is golden, but the real familial connection is loud and clear.