Arts & CultureFilm & TV

John Krasinski talks about directing his new horror film, ‘A Quiet Place’

“A Quiet Place” looks like the creation of an experienced horror director. The film tracks a family in a post-apocalyptic New York, ravaged by an unexplained event. Monsters hunt human survivors through sound, turning any remaining human civilizations into widespread cat-and-mouse games. Silence is the only lasting defense for Lee Abbott (John Krasinski), his wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and their two children (Millie Simmonds and Noah Jupe). They speak through sign language and hushed whispers, sacrificing their voices to protect their children.

It’s a premise that lives and dies on the strength of its director, which makes Krasinski’s position at the helm particularly surprising. The actor-turned-filmmaker has been behind the camera before — his indie dramedy “The Hollars” received mixed reviews back in 2016 — but never in the horror genre. Yet, Krasinski wrote, directed and starred in “A Quiet Place,” tackling a notoriously difficult genre seemingly on his own.

That’s a recipe ripe for skepticism; Jim from NBC’s hit comedy “The Office” terrifying entire theaters is a head-scratching image. But “A Quiet Place” opened to rave reviews at this year’s South by Southwest film festival, and early predictions point toward box office success when the film enters wide release on Friday, April 6. When Krasinski spoke to a series of collegiate newspapers over a shared Google Hangout last week, it was easy to glean his relief when he talked about the premiere.

“That was one of the best moments of my whole life,” Krasinski said.

Maybe so. But the path to get there was almost as nerve-wracking as the film itself. Until his recent turn as an ex-Navy Seal in Michael Bay’s13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” he rarely stepped outside affable roles in comedies. This makes “A Quiet Place” more than a departure: it’s a career risk.

“I’m a scaredy cat. I don’t even watch horror movies,” Krasinski told the Emerald. “If you told me that I was going to direct this a year ago I’d say, ‘What are you talking about?’”

That changed when Krasinski was shown the initial script — written by thriller veterans Bryan Woods and Scott Beck — three weeks after the birth of his second daughter. He instantly connected with the story.

“I was already in the state of terror, [wondering] whether I was going to be a good enough father,” he said. “In comes this script about a family that relies on each other — about parents that would do absolutely anything for their kids. I was wide open for this one.”

Krasinski’s rewrite refocused the story onto the family. The result is an unnerving mixture of themes. Even in the film’s trailer, the tension comes from pairing parental anxieties with survival horror. It helps that dialogue is scarce — the script is 50 pages short of the industry standard — and that Krasinski cast Blunt as his co-lead. Their real-world relationship helped keep their characters grounded, even if working together made them both nervous.

“I didn’t want [Emily] to do anything that she didn’t want to do,” Krasinski said. “So when she actually signed onto the movie, it truly [was] the greatest compliment of my career. I’ve seen what it takes to get her to say yes to things.”

Directing his wife was only one of many challenges while filming. Learning American Sign Language was another. Millie Simmonds, a 14-year-old deaf actress who portrays one of the two children in the film, helped teach American Sign Language to the rest of the cast. Meanwhile, Krasinski had to balance the film’s reliance on silence with a rousing score from composer Marco Beltrami. There were monster designs from special effects artists, a tight schedule and a moderate budget ($17 million) stretched to its limit.

In short, Krasinski’s hands were full long before he called “action.” To handle it all, Krasinski turned to advice his father gave him when he was a child:

“One of the most confident things you can say as a human being is ‘I don’t know,’” Krasinski said. “I was willing to say that a lot. And it helped. I have always found that the best moments of my life are when I do actually jump. Even though the fall can be scary, when the end result is good it’s the best moments that you’ll ever have in your life, and it will define you.”

“A Quiet Place” opens everywhere Friday, April 6.

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Dana Alston

Dana Alston

Dana Alston is an Associate Arts & Culture Editor from San Jose, CA. He writes about film, music, and television. Paul Thomas Anderson is his one true god.

You can follow his meme-endorsed social media ramblings @AlstonDalston on Twitter or Letterboxd, or shoot him some eloquent hate mail at [email protected]