Horror is a genre founded in sound. Creepy, tone-setting music, the screams of slasher victims, the creak of a door opening on its own — without creative and inventive audio cues, horror would not be what it is today.
So imagine a horror film without sound. Or, more accurately, a film where the characters can’t make any noise out of fear for their lives, and any sound that is made is used in a precise and terrifying way. Imagine that movie, and you’d get John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place.”
“A Quiet Place,” released Friday, stars real-life couple Krasinski and Emily Blunt. Krasinski, of “The Office” fame, also co-wrote and directed the film, his third outing behind the camera.
The film follows Lee and Evelyn Abbot and their children as they try to survive on their farm in an apocalyptic landscape where a gruesome alien race is hunting life on Earth. The aliens have no eyesight, but do possess incredibly well-developed ears.
The film’s tagline sums up the situation best: “If they can’t hear you, they can’t hunt you.”
The film is actually not all that scary (in the traditional horror sense, at least). In fact, calling it a horror film is actually a bit of a misnomer. The film has very few jump scares or anything of the sort, and the few that do happen in the movie are all earned and don’t feel cheap in any way.
No, “A Quiet Place” is scary in the way that the classic film “Alien” is scary. An unknown and relatively unseen predatory force stalks the characters, and there seems to be no immediate way to stop them if they find you.
The film is unbelievably tense, and it forces its audience to be quiet and sit still. Some portions of the film are so silent that even the popcorn being chewed by someone six rows back can be heard. The film weighs down like a brick, leaving breaths short and chests heavy.
The film is a little less than two hours long, and through it all there’s very little dialogue — probably less than 75 lines total. In fact, “A Quiet Place” succeeds so well without its characters talking that it feels almost strange when they actually do.
It’s a testament to Krasinski’s directorial skills that the film can stand on its own without dialogue. Typically, if a film has a top-notch script, sacrifices can be made and shortcuts can be taken behind the camera. Strip the script away, and some directors flounder. Krasinski does not.
Little to no dialogue is obviously not just a directing challenge, but an acting one as well. Krasinski and Blunt manage well, but the real standouts are the children. Child actors always come under a lot of scrutiny, and a poor one can greatly detract from an otherwise great film.
Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe give phenomenal performances as Regan and Marcus Abbot. Simmonds in particular, who is deaf in real life, gives a stirring performance full of guilt and the struggles of being an adolescent in this world. Her character is complex and layered, and Simmonds portrays almost all of it using just her face.
One of the things “A Quiet Place” does best is making its world feel lived in. Questions one might never consider, like what it’s like to do laundry or give birth without making a sound, or what it’s like to serve dinner without the clinking of glassware and plates, are answered.
Another great choice the filmmakers made is keeping the scale small. The entirety of “A Quiet Place” takes place at or around the Abbots’ farm. Information about the outside world is somewhat present, in the form of newspaper clippings and limited contact with other people, but it’s unclear how accurate or up-to-date that information might be.
Not to be ignored is the sound design. Every single sound has a purpose; every single sound could be the source of the next attack, the next scare. The monsters themselves have their own unique, echolocation-like sound that’s extremely creepy in its own right.
One fault is that the film doesn’t quite know when to end, and, despite a relatively short runtime, when it finally does decide to roll the credits, it’s done in a rather heavy-handed and corny manner. Aside from that, however, “A Quiet Place” is paced excellently. The scares come when they should, and the tension releases — although briefly — in the appropriate places.
The best thing about “A Quiet Place,” though, is that it’s very fresh and unique. No, it’s not wholly original in its ideas, but it’s precise and impressive in its implementation of them.
It’s also encouraging to see such a successful, interesting film from a relatively inexperienced director. If anything, “A Quiet Place” adds John Krasinski, like Jordan Peele with “Get Out,” to a growing list of comedy actors turned thriller directors. The prospect of what comes next from him is nearly as exciting as the film itself.