Film review | A Quiet Place

Actor John Krasinski has chosen the perfect project for his directorial debut: a tight, merciless horror-thriller whose simplicity is its secret weapon • 4/5

Children of the corn: Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe attempt to evade the gnashing clutches of sound-sensitive killer aliens in John Krasinski’s tense and impressive debut
Children of the corn: Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe attempt to evade the gnashing clutches of sound-sensitive killer aliens in John Krasinski’s tense and impressive debut

Horror is an enduring genre because it picks up on universal fears and amplifies them in a way which – when it’s done right – allows us to confront our inner demons and nagging fears at the cinema. That, or it gives vent to some of our barely-repressed though indelibly dark fantasies and desires.

In both cases, the net effect is that a trip to scary town makes for a cathartic time at the movies, and for this reason above all, perhaps, it’s a genre that has withstood the test of time, without having to ride the waves of fickle cinematic trends.

The fact that contriving a horror scenario is a relatively cheap affair compared to other genres –as long as you get your script and staging right, everything else should fall into place – is yet another reason why the genre will continue to exist at least on the periphery of the mainstream cinematic experience. Try making a superhero film for under a million, and see where that gets you.

However, that doesn’t mean that superstars are not known to fiddle around in the muddied and suspect waters of horror. And now, actor John Krasinski (The Office, 13 Hours) has even chosen one for his directorial debut.

Working off a lean and mean script devised by himself as well as Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, Krasinski also stars as father-figure Lee Abbott in A Quiet Place, which shoves us straight into a near future in which humans are compelled to remain as silent as possible lest they be heard (and subsequently eaten) by horrific alien creatures whose provenance is never really explained – nor does it need to be. All that matters is that now, Lee and his wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt), while still reeling from a fresh tragedy, await some potentially good tidings – the birth of another child to accompany its siblings; the young Marcus (Noah Jupe) and the older and more bitter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), who resents and interprets Lee’s overprotectiveness – largely stemming from the fact that his daughter is deaf – as a lack of love and trust.

The tension between the two only sours further when Lee opts to take Marcus on a kind of ‘rite of passage’ journey to the woods, where he aims to teach the boy some survival skills as the monsters continue to stalk humanity, pushing them to the fringes of existence and dooming them to perpetual, watchful silence. Yearning to be in her brother’s place, Regan skulks down to the nearby woods by herself. But in her absence, the family’s worst fears are realised.

Though the concept is solid enough to sell the film, Krasinski ensures that the ball is never dropped – and with such tight-winding needed, the possibility of said droppage is very high indeed. What would appear as excessively staged or schematic in lesser hands here gains ominous urgency – never will look at a loose nail in the same way again – and the balance between loud/quiet and rush and repose is perfectly calibrated. It also helps that, though they may adhere to basic archetypal models, the character arcs are defined clearly and brought to a convincing conclusion – and this is particularly true of the relationship between Regan and Lee; where misjudgements and fatal mistakes click into place to push the story forward. Yes, here is a tale of a tight-knit rural family facing an extraterrestrial threat, but any Spielbergian sentimentality is kept to a bare minimum.

Mostly because being forced to keep quiet also translates into a freedom from histrionics and overcomplication, pulling us into this tense and grisly horror-thriller and never letting go.

Apocalypse parenting: Blunt and Krasinski
Apocalypse parenting: Blunt and Krasinski

The verdict

Simple but terrifyingly effective, A Quiet Place is a perfect example of the kind of mainstream cinema that we need – no frills, just thrills, and perfectly adapted for the cinema experiences (provided your fellow audience members behave themselves). Krasinski is to be commended for picking such a lean and mean project to test his burgeoning directorial skills, not just because he pulls it all off with panache, but also because it’s a clever move in and of itself.