A Quiet Place is a wormy-squirmy creature feature framed in our own frenetic, frazzled now.
These days, it just feels like our survival is contingent upon suppressed startle factor, or that packs of predators seem to descend upon even the slightest sound they find disagreeable. For the Abbotts, life depends on silence in a world overrun by giant, chittering critters referred to as Dark Angels. These blind beasts hunt via otherworldly echolocation. They hear it. They eat it. The crazy old coot in the woods. The trash-panda raccoons that never see them coming. You.
Led by Lee and Evelyn (real-life spouses John Krasinski and Emily Blunt), the Abbotts sequester themselves in stillness on their upstate New York farm. They walk barefoot, roll board-game dice on rugs, use earbuds when listening to Neil Young.
Their daughter’s deafness provides an unexpected advantage; Lee, Evelyn, Regan (Millicent Simmonds, actually deaf) and young boys Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward) mostly speak in American Sign Language. Outside of two sequences, A Quiet Place is largely subtitled. Krasinski — who also co-wrote and directs — establishes sufficient room tone to acclimate you to his film’s award-worthy acoustics … before indulging in Marco Beltrami’s haunting score and a cacophony of calm-shattering sound effects. You won’t be afraid to read a few words; A Quiet Place is all too skilled at frightening you with all the right things.
Lee and Evelyn make a decision rooted in hope that you’ll either find eye-rolling or essential, fundamental or foolhardy: They decide to have another child. The required suspension of disbelief stops at Earth’s invasion by lumbering, hungry creatures. Babies remain quite loud.
A Quiet Place has two aims, both modest: 1) Hammer your nerves during the most harrowing home-birth plan ever hatched. 2) Conflate the Dark Angels’ eviscerating attacks with how real-life fears just as messily and swiftly tear us asunder.
Krasinski gets just right the ratio of fun to forlorn, as A Quiet Place blends the grim palette of a Wyeth painting and the grainy pulse of ’80s Spielberg. From silos to subterranean rooms and tubs to train tracks, it’s suffused with seat-leaving moments assuredly staged by Krasinski and gorgeously photographed by cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen (Molly’s Game). The silence helps you hone in on their compositions, describable as still life but still … life.
Setpieces abound. Subtleties, too. A moment when Lee and Evelyn share earbuds on “Harvest Moon” is sweetly romantic before hardening into subtext: If each is listening to a divergent channel, are they hearing the same things? Do they both want a sixth Abbott? Watch Blunt’s face as Evelyn matter-of-factly trudges up a treacherous flight of stairs in a tense moment, an effortless embrace of this character’s everyday tribulations. Krasinski also shrewdly turns his Jim-Face from The Office on its ear by popping his eyes as a panicking post-apocalyptic papa.
The script, co-credited to Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, also considers how sustained self-suppression shuts us down. Silence amplifies the ache of guilt, makes it easier to second-guess yourself when always alone with first-person thoughts, escalates the lingering doubt that you have any idea what you’re doing as a parent into a maddening, unshakeable tinnitus ring.
Ultimately, A Quiet Place is a tension machine with a tender mien. If all you really care about is creature design, well … imagine every sharp-edged anxiety racing through your mind given teeth, pincers and an abnormally accurate sense for finding you no matter how well you hide.
Scary enough for you? It should be.