In the greatest sci-fi horror of all time, Alien, the android’s excuse for valuing the xenomorph’s life so much more than his human crewmates’ is that he ‘admires its purity’. It’s a lesson in great monster design, but purity is also the key to success for most horror films. Don’t get bogged down in anything unnecessary, just terrify your audience. A Quiet Place understands this principle better than any horror movie since perhaps It Follows. John Krasinski’s film is a relentless machine of a heart-stopping thriller with an inspired central conceit and some properly terrifying monsters.
These creatures, clawed and armoured giant reptilian beasts, have no senses other than hyper-advanced hearing, so what’s left of a decimated humanity is forced to stay silent at all times. The draining terror of this existence is evident from the first scene, as an exhausted family scrounges for supplies from an abandoned store. Led by real-life wife and husband Emily Blunt and John Krasinski as the mum and dad, this small unit are the only characters in the film, and the anxiety of their situation is written all over their faces. After this supply trip goes catastrophically wrong, we flash-forward over a year. Civilisation looks no closer to being restored, but our heroes are holed up in relative safety in a sound-proofed farmhouse.
That’s the good news. The bad is that Blunt’s character is heavily pregnant, and neither birth nor a baby are particularly conducive to silence. Every step matters, any stumble could spell death, and an exposed nail on the stairs sits there with the power of a landmine. Krasinski proves himself to be an incredibly adept horror director, loading every monster encounter with unbearable tension and very real threat. All of these scenes are paralysingly frightening, and one absolute standout scene in a flooded basement almost matches Annihilation’s mutant bear for brain-rattling terror.
Krasinski, Bryan Woods, and Scott Beck’s script isn’t shy about putting the kids in mortal danger, and both Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe are terrific as the siblings learning to survive. Deaf herself, Simmonds is perfect for the role of the older sister, a perfect mix of smarts, toughness, and vulnerability. Her disability may be the reason the family has been able to cope in a noiseless world, but she has to rely on visual cues to know that there’s danger afoot, creating some skin-prickling ‘it’s behind you’ moments.
Jupe does superb work in a very difficult role, often crippled by quaking fear, and Krasinski brings a heroic yet desperate poise that’s a far cry from The Office’s Jim Halpert. Blunt is given some of the most memorable moments, including the birth scene right under the noses (and giant, pulsating ears) of the creatures. It wipes you out just watching it, an unimaginably nerve-shredding situation that shows how much thought has gone into getting the most of the central premise. A Quiet Place could never be dismissed as a ‘gimmick’ horror movie, always respecting the rules it sets for itself and showing how the world could evolve in the absence of sound.
In the best possible way, A Quiet Place feels longer than its 90 minute runtime would suggest. Every second in the company of the monsters seems to take an eternity as they skitter across rooftops and creep around the barns where the family takes shelter. Krasinski give us just enough breaks in the action to avoid fatigue setting in and deepen the characters and their relationships. These moments are very welcome, as are the rare instances of proper, stand and cheer catharsis.
There is next to no spoken exposition about the creatures or the state of the rest of the world, but newspaper clippings dotted around the family’s workshop hint at the origins of the apocalypse without depriving it of its vital mystery. Working out how to save the world is not these characters’ responsibility, and the oppressive immersion into their moment to moment fear is rarely let up. The sound design, as it has to be in a film with this premise, is brilliant, finding all the little variations of ‘silent’ and ‘quiet’, so the relief the family feels at finding a voice-masking background noise like a waterfall is utterly infectious.
Even throughout its most gruelling moments, A Quiet Place always manages to slip in rays of hope. It stops the action from becoming repetitive or numbing, as we can imagine the future that the family are trying to escape to, if only vaguely. It marks a major step up for Krasinski as a director, and as part of a writing team that never let a minute go to waste in a pure thrill ride of a film that’s as entertaining as anything you’ll likely see in 2018.