A Quiet Place

Don’t cry out loud

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A terrifying thriller with a surprisingly warm heart, John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place is a monster-movie allegory for parenting in a world gone very, very wrong. A couple with kids in real life, Krasinski and Emily Blunt here play parents in a world where even the slightest noise can lead to sudden, violent death. Training their children to be self-sufficient without making a sound is as unique a challenge as, well, let’s not waste the time explaining what in 2018 America might feel like a plague of revolting, apocalypse-creating monsters, because even moviegoers who don’t accept the metaphor are going to have the pants scared off them. Third time’s the charm for Krasinski in the director’s chair.

Opening with a card that reads “Day 89,” the movie finds our unnamed family gathering provisions in an upstate New York community that has become a ghost town. As they sign to each other—the daughter is deaf, and, presumably, knowing sign language helped them keep each other alive as their neighbors were killed—we learn the spidery creatures who have wreaked havoc have exceptional hearing. Being blind, that’s the only way they can locate things to eat. Two parents and three children start the long walk back home. In a beautifully staged, heartbreaking scene, one of the children makes a mistake and is killed.

A little over a year later, Mom is pregnant. Who would bring a child into this world—and how would one even manage labor and delivery quietly? A soundproofing scheme is being planned, though no one is eager to find out if it works. The four live in an Edward Hopper-ish farmhouse with a big red barn and corn silos next door. The camera notes clever adjustments they’ve made to turn life’s volume down, and, in an early clattering mishap, we both learn how intense the danger of discovery is and get a quick hit of already-needed comic relief.

Scenes of what passes for ordinary life let the screenplay focus on Mom and Dad’s attempts to educate their son (Noah Jupe) and daughter (Millicent Simmonds) while never letting them forget how dangerous their lives are.

Blunt is a loving mother who can’t help but whisper just a tiny bit as she encourages her son to be brave; Krasinski’s expressive eyes are especially well suited to expressing the depth of his concern for them. On the two or three occasions when he finds ways to bring full-throated voices into the picture, Krasinski milks them for emotional impact.

Lest this sound too warm and fuzzy, understand that things are about to get incredibly violent, and stay that way.

Obviously, Blunt’s character will go into labor before the movie ends. But that’s just about the only predictable thing here, and the film finds ways to turn even that into a surprise. Things start when the family members are scattered throughout the area, unable to help each other, and we get our first good looks at the exceptional creature design of these monsters, whose heads open up, petal-like, to reveal huge, intricate ears and rows of sharp teeth.

The ordeal Mom endures in a house alone with a beast would suffice to make this a crowd-pleasing horror film. But things are barely getting started, and the ways Krasinski and his collaborators find to ratchet up the tension are sometimes so surprising they provoke shocked, appreciative laughter. The final third is a thrill ride whose relentless action beats make just the right pauses for emotional effect. If only it were this fun being terrified in real life.

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