Review: ‘A Quiet Place’ mixes family drama with high-concept horror
The biggest success of John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place” comes from its willingness to live up to its title. The film, which tracks the Abbott family living on a farm in a post-apocalyptic landscape, opens with silence. A series of opening shots display the remnants of a small town. Empty shopping carts and run down cars litter the streets. In an abandoned pharmacy, Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and her three children search for medicine.
One of the kids spies a rocket toy, which his father Lee (John Krasinski) treats like a bomb. “Too loud,” he warns him, gently removing the batteries. The family heads home along a trail of sand that deafens their every step. They are being hunted, and thanks to a swiftly executed sequence that establishes these stakes, we share their terror. There are monsters everywhere, blind and armored, and they hunt sound. In a bloody flash, we’re shown their ruthlessness: the boy keeps the toy, turns it on, Lee dashes to try and save him and it’s over. The Abbotts are now minus one.
In the hands of a subpar director, “A Quiet Place” is ripe for disaster. The film is a high-concept creature feature mixed with a family drama, a mix of genres that requires a deft hand to keep grounded. What a surprise that this hand belongs to Krasinski, an actor-turned-filmmaker who spent the majority of his career playing comedic everymen. The paradox of an actor best known for “The Office” directing, co-writing and starring in a horror film is hard to ignore, especially considering his only other full-length feature was an indie drama.
Krasinski, thankfully, showcases clear talent on all fronts. As director, he has an eye for tension, and showcases it in and a number of sequences that take advantage of the rural setting in clever ways. One scene, designed around a towering grain silo, plays on claustrophobic anxiety using only a creaking metal door. Other sequences employ the film’s terrific sound design — an essential element of the film’s conceit — to terrifying effect, despite being too reliant on jump scares.
Krasinski also captures fine performances from his actors. Blunt (Krasinski’s real-life spouse) is solid as co-lead, even if her character is somewhat unremarkable. The contrast between a caring mother and a gruff-but-loving father is established early, but fails to evolve into anything unexpected. Krasinski imbues Lee with a wide-eyed, humanizing desperation. But Millie Simmonds, as the Abbott’s deaf daughter Reagan, is the clear MVP. She has begun rebelling against her parents protectiveness, and Simmonds is forced to balance that angst with outright gumption. “She’s smart,” Evelyn tells Lee. “She’ll know what to do.” We believe her.
“A Quiet Place” is not perfect. Krasinski’s inexperience shows, usually when he spoon-feeds information to the audience. The most blatant example is the Abbott’s bunker, covered in old newspapers with headlines like “Stay Silent, Stay Alive” and “What is the weakness??” In the first ten minutes, those visual clues make a difference. By the final act, they’re eyeroll-inducing. The final act is more crippling; Krasinski falls into the “more is better” trap, bombarding his audience with jump scares at a rate that makes each scare less impactful than the last. At the start of the film, the monsters are horrifying. By the end, they’re haunted house attractions.
Still, “A Quiet Place” is thoroughly original, and good enough to stand out among the contrived horror movies usually released in spring. Krasinski has crafted a tense look at family dynamics in a post-apocalyptic setting and made it a lot of fun to watch. Not bad for his third directing gig. And when you consider that the film is first foray into the genre, the film becomes as impressive as it is enjoyable.
‘A Quiet Place’ is in theaters everywhere.
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