Directed by John Krasinski
Starring John Krasinski, Emily Blunt
Running Time 1 Hr., 35 Mins., PG-13
My Rating: B
In 1967’s “Wait Until Dark,” a simple thriller premise turned out to be much more spine-tingling than it had any right to be. In it, Audrey Hepburn played a blind woman forced to fight off ruthless thugs who break into her home, with only her wits and slightly enhanced hearing to guide her. For much of the film, we, like Hepburn’s Lisa, are completely in the dark. In the film’s climactic scene, for instance, we watch in agony as she and the movie’s primary villain frantically duke it out in the pitch black, with infrequently lit matches acting as our only source of lighting.
Part of the reason “Wait Until Dark” has continued to work so well over the last five decades has to do with how hyperaware we are of our heroine’s limitations — and of the terrifying reality that one move in the wrong direction could could cost her her life. “The Silence of the Lambs” to “Don’t Breathe,” are built on what “Wait Until Dark” introduced, pondering how sequences of suspense might be increased if one of our senses were taken away from us, or if our ability to effectively communicate was severely limited.
This year’s “A Quiet Place” exploits this idea: It takes away a basic human function as a way to give greater weight to its thrills and chills. But it does so in a far more intense manner than any of the previously mentioned features. Here, making even the most seemingly innocuous of a noise will get you killed.
In “A Quiet Place,” we are immersed in a near-future world wherein a sightless, auditorily super-sensitive alien species has invaded Earth. In a matter of a few months, the beasts, who will lethally attack if you so much as whisper, have managed to wipe out the population. The few who have survived have presumably taken to underground hideouts; anyone else has learned to live silently above ground, careful not to take too deep of breaths, cautious of chewing on their rationed goods too loudly.
The film doesn’t have the ambitions of an apocalypse blockbuster like “2012,” though: worldwide devastations are predominantly shown on the front pages of newspapers, which litter the streets and are positioned toward the camera in just the right way during key moments.
It’s much more intimate than that, revolving around the Abbott family. The movie opens on the 89th day of the invasion, and apparently the family has managed to survive both because they live in middle-of-nowhere farmlands and because they’re able to communicate via sign language (Regan was born without the ability to hear.)
Without much adornment, “A Quiet Place” watches as they try to survive, which is complicated by the fact that Evelyn (Emily Blunt), the matriarch, is heavily pregnant. Moving about with little sound, emphasizing the expressive and agitated performances of its leads (the deaf actress Millicent Simmonds, who plays the daughter, is particularly exceptional), the movie delivers. We come for an innovative, excruciatingly intense thriller, and that’s exactly what we get.
Reviews and audience reactions have been unanimously positive, though I’m disposed to think that the enthusiastic reactions have more to do with how novel and uncommon a movie like “A Quiet Place” is.
I’m not so sure it’s as masterful as it’s been made out to be: If anything, it’s an especially inspired cheap thrill. But it’s a gripping success all the same, and suggests that John Krasinski, whose other filmmaking endeavors were decent but unextraordinary, might have a future in horror.