With a monster (no pun intended) opening weekend box office haul and one of the most impressive critical approval ratings of the year so far, John Krasinski’s hushed thriller “A Quiet Place” is stirring its share of awards talk. We’re certainly in a new Oscar era, but can the buzz hold?
Just over a month ago, Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” won the best picture Oscar, just the second victory for a fantasy film in the motion picture Academy’s 90-year history. Jordan Peele’s horror satire “Get Out,” meanwhile, claimed the original screenplay prize. Genre filmmaking had quite a moment in general, with other movies like “Blade Runner 2049” and “Logan” picking up major awards attention throughout the season.
The Academy’s ongoing diversification and internationalization initiative, adding waves of newer, often younger members over the last two years, has yielded plenty of discussion about representation and inclusion on screen. Less considered are the possibilities for a broader swath of styles, technique and, indeed, genres to register with Oscar voters. “A Quiet Place” doesn’t have the social underpinnings of del Toro and Peele’s efforts working for it, but it does have craft to spare.
Indeed, “it’s really well done” has probably been the most widely shared sentiment I’ve heard about Krasinski’s near-silent visual storytelling feast. Of course. It had to be. “A Quiet Place” is wholly dependent on the world conjured by the 38-year-old writer, director and star, a world that has to remain credible on a bit of a high wire — as viewers try to find the appropriate moments to crunch their popcorn. If you see it in a packed theater, glance back at the audience; Krasinski has them eating out of the palm of his hand. He effortlessly composes set pieces and, to use an overworked phrase, ratchets tension with ease.
At a time when film writing often emphasizes zeitgeist import over analysis of craft, it’s pleasing to see Krasinski’s efforts find such a foothold with critics in addition to audiences. The film settled at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregation scale, and it scored an 82 on Metacritic (good enough to best a number of last year’s Oscar contenders, including “Darkest Hour,” “The Disaster Artist,” “I, Tonya” and the aforementioned “Logan”). A $50 million launch at the box office on a $17 million budget, meanwhile, pretty much guarantees the franchise-strapped Paramount Pictures will be exploring sequel options.
Basically, like “Black Panther” — though clearly on a different level — “A Quiet Place” has become an industry story. It could continue to resonate all the way into the season for those who recognize what Krasinski pulled off. It’s his third film, but if it were his debut, a first-timer feature bid from the Directors Guild wouldn’t have been out of the question (not unlike Dan Trachtenberg’s for the similarly efficient 2016 thriller “10 Cloverfield Lane”).
Emily Blunt’s performance also bears mentioning; it’s one of 2018’s best leading actress turns so far, along with Toni Collette’s towering work in another genre picture this year, Sundance hit “Hereditary.” And a screenplay notice would be inspired, given how the writers spin a compelling, can’t-look-away yarn without the crutch of dialogue. More realistic, however, would be sound recognition, particularly the effects work from Oscar-winning sound editing duo Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn (“King Kong,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”). As you can imagine, “A Quiet Place” lives or dies on its aural atmosphere.
Whether Krasinski’s film can linger long enough to still be in the consideration pool at year’s end is still to be seen, but it’s a solid start to the spring and it has people talking. That’s about as firm a footing as you can hope for with the 91st annual Academy Awards basically almost a year away.
POPULAR ON VARIETY