×

Film Review: ‘A Quiet Place’

John Krasinski directs a spooky stunt of a horror film, costarring Emily Blunt, about alien creatures who will only attack you if you make a sound.

Director:
John Krasinski
With:
Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe.
Release Date:
Apr 6, 2018

Official Site: https://schedule.sxsw.com/2018/films/127650

A Quiet Place,” an alien-beastie-in-the-cornfields thriller directed by John Krasinski, opened the South by Southwest Film Festival tonight with a weirdly silent and goofy-sinister B-movie bang. The movie tells the story of a family under siege. To survive, they have to follow one abiding law of safety: If anyone makes a sound — virtually any sound at all — then that person will be a goner. A skeletal creature with crab-like pincers and a head like a metallic melon will burst out of the woods and make mincemeat of the noise-maker. But if everyone simmers down and puts a cork in it, they’ll succeed in eluding the monsters in their midst. Life will go on (but quietly!). At times, we might be watching an “Alien” sequel in which the creature had mated with a very nasty and scolding librarian.

A Quiet Place” is a tautly original genre-bending exercise, technically sleek and accomplished, with some vivid, scary moments, though it’s a little too in love with the stoned logic of its own premise. The film generates a free-floating dread out of the fact that almost every sound a character makes is potentially deadly. The more you look at it, though, the more you see that “A Quiet Place” is at once catchy and contrived, ingenious and arbitrary. (Why is it that a crashing waterfall can mask any telltale sound, but when the family is behind the walls of their farmhouse, even their whispers risk being heard?) Yet sometimes, getting on the clever/whatever wavelength of a horror film and just rolling with can be a part of the fun. “A Quiet Place” is that kind of movie.

It opens on Day 89 of a mysterious invasion. A picturesque main street in upstate New York has been abandoned — the eerie, bombed-out vibe is pure zombie-movie dystopia. But poking around the shadowy crannies of an empty grocery store is a family: Krasinski, the noble bearded father, and his wife, played by Emily Blunt (Krasinski and Blunt are married in real life), along with their three children. They all look normal enough, except that everyone is barefoot, and remains so throughout the film, and they communicate in sign language.

All appears stable until the younger son (Cade Woodward) makes the mistake of playing with a battery-powered airplane toy. They take it away from him, but he sneaks it out of the store, and when they’re on the road back, crossing a bridge, the toy starts to make noise — at which point a spindly alien appears like a flash of lightning to rip the boy’s guts out.

When it hits us that this is going to be a movie about four people attempting to say as little as possible — call it the world’s first STFU horror film — it seems, frankly, like the conceit might be a bit of a drag. Yes, sign language is real language, but the dialogue in “A Quiet Place” is naggingly minimal; it doesn’t offer much room for character development or plot-thickening intrigue. And while not every supernatural set-up needs to be entirely explained (sometimes things are spookier if they’re not), in “A Quiet Place” even the basic rules of what’s going on, which we have to piece together by looking, periodically, over a wall of newspaper headlines, are pretty thin.

Where have the aliens come from, and how many of them are there? (Three, as it often seems, or three hundred?) Have they killed everyone in the world, or is their savagery limited to upstate New York? (At times the film’s ad line feels like it should be: “In the Hudson Valley, no one can hear you scream.”) And what about the government, the military — and, you know, advanced weaponry? More to the point: Why is it that human beings making non-human sounds will set off the aliens, but the sounds of nature don’t? How do they know a toy airplane is being held by a small child?

All of which is to say: “A Quiet Place” has the smart/dumb, original/derivative, logic/anti-logic quality of a mid-period M. Night Shyamalan special like “Signs” or “The Village.” The most artful section of the movie is, in its way, the most challenging: the first half, in which the characters’ attempt to remain silent becomes a kind of deadly game. Even when they’re just communicating with their eyes, the devotion the members of this family feel toward each other is palpable. Complications trickle in, like the Blunt character’s pregnancy, or the fact that the family’s daughter is deaf (she’s played by the intensely expressive deaf actress Millicent Simmonds). Her dad keeps trying, and failing, to build her an effective hearing aid, and when it explodes in feedback, that turns out to be one of the film’s quintessentially nutty yet endearing plot points: Who could have guessed the ultimate weapon against these monsters might be a Sonic Youth box set?

Krasinski, whose personality in the features he has directed (“The Hollars,” “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”) has always been a bit fuzzy, now brings himself into focus with the genre brinksmanship of “A Quiet Place.” He stages highly suspenseful scenes, like one involving Emily Blunt and a nail sticking out of the basement stairs, and another in a grain elevator, all of which should help position the film as a solid box-office performer. In the second half, the movie turns into a more conventional alien-attack thriller, but if anything it becomes more rousingly effective. The monsters, it turns out, can hear everything but see nothing. And though we can’t always buy what we’re seeing in “A Quiet Place,” Krasinski is a gifted enough filmmaker to paper over our objections. He directs with all his senses.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'A Quiet Place'

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (World Premiere), March 9, 2018. Running time: 95 MIN.

Production: A Paramount Pictures release of a Sunday Night, Platinum Dunes production. Producers: Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller. Executive producers: John Krasinski, Celia Costas, Allyson Seeger, Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, Aaron Janus.

Crew: Director: John Krasinski. Screenplay: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, John Krasinski. Camera (color, widescreen): Charlotte Bruus Christensen. Editor: Christopher Tellefsen. Music: Marco Beltrami.

With: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe.

More Film

  • Sarajevo, Intl. Casting Directors Network Look

    Sarajevo Film Festival and International Casting Directors Network Look to Launch Local Stars

    The Intl. Casting Directors Network (ICDN) and the Sarajevo Film Festival are joining forces to turn the popular Bosnian film fest into a springboard for regional actors looking to launch international careers. After kicking off with a pilot version last year, the initiative expanded to include a series of masterclasses with leading casting directors and [...]

  • Kristen Stewart Underwater

    Watch Kristen Stewart Fight Sea Monsters in 'Underwater' Trailer

    Vampires, ghosts and now sea monsters? Clearly there is no monster actress Kristen Stewart cannot tame. In the first trailer for the submerged thriller “Underwater,” Stewart is a member an stranded submarine crew. The trailer begins with the radio message: “You are now 5,000 miles from land and you are descending seven miles to the [...]

  • Romanian Director Catalin Mitulescu on Sarajevo

    Romanian Director Catalin Mitulescu on Sarajevo Competition Film ‘Heidi’

    A leading figure of the Romanian New Wave, Cătălin Mitulescu has had a heralded career since winning the Palme d’Or for his 2004 short film “Traffic.” His first two features, “The Way I Spent the End of the World” (2006) and “Loverboy” (2011), both premiered in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard sidebar. He also co-produced and [...]

  • Betty Gilpin'Stuber' film premiere, Arrivals, Regal

    'GLOW' Star Betty Gilpin in Talks to Join Chris Pratt in 'Ghost Draft' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Fresh off her Emmy nomination for Netflix’s “GLOW,” Betty Gilpin has found her next project. The actress is in talks to join Chris Pratt in “Ghost Drama,” a sci-fi action film from Skydance and Paramount. Gilpin would join a cast that also includes “Handmaid’s Tale” star Yvonne Strahovski. Directed by “Lego Batman” filmmaker Chris McKay [...]

  • Stephan Komandarev on Sarajevo Player ‘Rounds’

    Director Stephan Komandarev on Sarajevo Player ‘Rounds’ and His Bulgarian Trilogy

    Bulgarian director Stephan Komandarev earned critical acclaim for his 2017 feature “Directions,” which was selected for Cannes’ Un Certain Regard sidebar. The first installment in a planned trilogy about the social inequality and moral ills plaguing both Bulgaria and Europe at large, the film followed six cab drivers over the course of 24 hours as [...]

  • Meryl Streep Best Movie Lines

    HBO Max Lands Steven Soderbergh's Next Film Starring Meryl Streep

    HBO Max has picked up Steven Soderbergh’s next film, the comedy “Let Them All Talk” starring Meryl Streep. Joining Streep in the ensemble cast are Candice Bergen, Dianne Wiest, Lucas Hedges and Gemma Chan. The screenplay was written by short story author and MacArthur Fellow recipient Deborah Eisenberg. It’s the story of a celebrated author [...]

  • Bruce Springsteen FYSEE Opening Night with

    Bruce Springsteen Drops Introspective Trailer for 'Western Stars' Film

    While initial reports about Bruce Springsteen’s forthcoming documentary around his recent “Western Stars” album said that it would essentially be a concert film, the first trailer for it, which dropped today, suggests it’s going to be a more introspective outing, more in line with his autobiographical performances at “Springsteen on Broadway” in 2017 and 2018, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content