Billed as a horror film, this third directorial effort from The Office alumni John Krasinski is more a suspenseful sci-fi drama that posits an interesting predicament for those eking out an existence in a post-apocalyptic society. Every day for the Abbott family is one that requires great care and attention to detail in everything they do given the ever-present threat from the nasty creatures that now inhabit this particular part of the world. There is no real insight offered with regard to how the world came to be in such a state and, when the film opens, the damage has already been done; empty streets, abandoned shops and no signs of any other significant human activity. As they make their way home from gathering supplies in what was once a small supermarket, it is very easy to imagine them stumbling across Rick Grimes and his motley bunch of zombie-hunting disciples.
What makes A Quiet Place stand out is the unique premise that has been concocted by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, who devised the story and co-wrote the screenplay with Krasinski, who also takes on the role of family patriarch Lee. Set in the very near future, the human population has been ravaged by creatures that rely solely on sound to track their prey. Subsequently, the only means of survival is to remain silent and the Abbotts can personally attest to the consequences of failing to do so. Conveniently, the eldest Abbot child Regan (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf and the family is therefore fluent in sign language, which makes communications between the characters – and presenting such communications to the audience – much easier than it otherwise would be. Of course, whilst living in complete silence is second nature to Regan, it proves problematic in that she has no way of knowing if she, or others, have made a sound that might lure predators, although it is for far more selfish reasons that Lee overlooks Regan in favour of younger brother Marcus (Noah Jupe) as his companion on a fishing expedition. Whilst the decision by Lee and wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt) to have another child is a decision devoid is of any logic given their circumstances, it certainly adds plenty of tension to proceedings.
Whilst there are a few scares to be had, most of the tension is drawn from the fact that the most seemingly innocuous moment (the breaking of a glass or the snapping of a tree branch) is potentially life-threatening. So much care must be taken in everything they do, which includes being bare foot at all times, that there is a permanent state of unease in watching them go about their daily grind. It is intense and compelling, yet I found myself frustrated and distracted by moments that seemed somewhat contrived in their execution, such as when the kids break a lamp whilst playing Monopoly (using cloth game pieces, of course). Obviously the racket from the breaking glass and subsequent flash fire puts everybody on edge and amps up the tension, but why do they need an oil/kerosene lamp when there is electricity, the availability of which has enabled them to construct an elaborate warning system around their house.
So good in Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck, Simmonds is great again as a typically petulant teenager trapped in circumstances that make every act of rebellion a potential threat to herself and others. Krasinski is fine as the tragically heroic father and Blunt is suitably distressed as a mother-to-be whose pregnancy brings all manner of complications to the already perilous situation in which she finds herself, not the least of which is having to give birth alone and in silence while the house is under attack. The absence of any origin story – what we learn comes only from glimpses of newspaper headlines – leaves us to speculate as to how a creature that is literally all ears and jaws has managed to invade Earth, if in fact they are alien, as opposed to something concocted by man that has gone horribly wrong. Such expository absences aside, A Quiet Place is a highly effective exercise in creating tension in which every sound adds a stab of anxiety to proceedings.