I don’t usually review horror films on this site—mostly because there’s not much of an audience for such commentary—but I’ll make an exception here (and, to be fair, this one’s more of a thriller). “A Quiet Place” is creative, memorable, and evokes the best of Hitchcock, and it demands to be seen in a distraction-free theater.
The year is 2020, and the human race has been overrun by waves of terrifying, nearly indestructible alien predators who hunt only by sound. Deep within a lonely forest far from the wreckage of civilization, the Abbott family makes their stand. Father Lee (John Krasinski, perhaps best known as Jim Halpert from “The Office,” who’s also the director) and mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt, Krasinski’s real-world wife) struggle to protect their three small children from the monsters at their door. But it’s impossible to live in a constant state of panic, and the Abbotts have made the best of their unenviable situation: communication unfolds through sign language, paths through the forest are covered with sand to mask the noise of footfall and board games are played with cloth tokens.
Yes, it’s a simple premise, but it taps into an elemental childhood fear—that somewhere, waiting in the blackness just beyond your vision, is a creature waiting to gobble you up if you won’t be quiet.
In many ways, “A Quiet Place” feels like a fusion of M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs” and the Audrey Hepburn classic “Wait Until Dark.” In that spirit, most of the film’s action unfolds across a single night—a bold but brilliant choice. Mediocre thrillers punctuate their jump scares with cutaways to “the next morning,” where everything’s brightly lit and there’s nothing scary in sight. Effective thrillers never let the viewer off the hook, but keep slowly ratcheting up the tension until it’s almost unbearable. And Krasinski also deserves credit for crafting monsters that are genuinely scary in both design and behavior: if you thought the Velociraptor kitchen scene in “Jurassic Park” was nerve-wracking, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
But that’s not the only reason “A Quiet Place” works so well. The film takes its sweet time before turning up the heat, weaving in glimpses of the Abbotts’ pastoral life—Evelyn homeschooling the children and cooking dinner, Lee teaching his son to fish, and so on. Certainly an aura of tension and danger is always there, but Krasinski leaves enough breathing room to fully humanize his characters. As a result, when the terror comes, it lands hard.
Side note: over the years, I’ve noticed that the most gripping thrillers tend to involve parents struggling to protect their entire family. Such movies refuse to adopt the ubiquitous and-then-there-were-none approach to the horror genre—that is, family members don’t try to buy a few more minutes of life by sacrificing one of their number to gory violence. Yes, this typically means that far fewer quarts of fake blood are spilled, but the actual felt intensity of the movie is much greater (and if anything goes south, it feels like a real punch to the gut). Speaking of which, a word on content issues: although this isn’t a bloodbath by any means, the whole movie hinges on the stalking, lurking presence of creatures that really are the stuff of nightmares. Despite the PG-13 rating, don’t take the kids.
If I said much else, I’d be giving away plot points—and honestly, the less known about “A Quiet Place” prior to viewing, the better. (I deliberately avoided detailed reviews and was glad I did.) I’ll say this much, though: at bottom, “A Quiet Place” ranks with “The Babadook” and “Insidious” as one of the best nail-biters of the last several years. Eat your heart out, James Wan. (But please, not literally.)