We all know that moment in a horror movie: whoever is onscreen stops walking, or tiptoeing, or moving in any way, the camera locks in on their face, and all sound, for just a few seconds, stops. For seasoned horror fans, it’s a kind of warning: here comes something, and it’s going to be very loud, and very scary. It’s the exhilarating seconds when your breathing stops and your body tenses right before you jump out of your seat and spill popcorn all over yourself and the person sitting right in front of you. A Quiet Place is exactly that moment, but stretched out to feature length.
In A Quiet Place, star and director John Krasinski has crafted a fun, tense horror-thriller that is one part post-apocalyptic survival movie, one part creature feature, and one part relentless abdominal exercise that will take a couple hours to decompress from. It’s not exactly where most of us would have expected Jim from The Office to end up, but Krasinski has proven particularly adept at constructing scares and bending a few scary movie tropes along the way.
A Quiet Place begins with a shocking tragedy that I won’t go into here, but that quickly and efficiently builds the world that we’ll be living in for the next ninety minutes in a way that many veteran horror filmmakers still struggle with. Lee Abbott (Krasinski) and his family are struggling to survive after the world has been overrun by large, fast creatures that hunt by using sound, and only sound. And it’s not easy to stay silent, especially when you have children to herd around. They live in a shed they’ve built near a farmhouse, pathways through their property lined with fine sand so that their bare feet (shoes are too loud) don’t make noise when they walk around.
And when the noise comes, it’s very loud, and very sudden. For a horror movie, A Quiet Place is very jumpy, at times too much so. Jump scares are fun, and useful in moderation, but there’s a difference between having a few really good surprises and building an entire narrative around making people’s stomachs clench every few minutes. The movie often runs the risk of distracting its audience with its jump scares alone, but, that said, every one of them is quite good. Since we’re on the subject of sound, Marco Beltrami’s score is also tense, thrilling, and emotional, but I found myself wanting less of it, or even none at all, especially in a few key scenes that would have done well to rely solely on the absence of sound.
The film shines, though, in its details of the world Krasinski and co-screenwriters Scott Beck and Bryan Woods have built around their characters. We only see Lee and his family eating and hunting fish because the river disguises any noises they’d make while looking for food. Their farm is webbed with strings of lightbulbs that indicate where the pathways are, and there’s a moment when the lights turn red that’s awfully chilling. A Signs-esque cornfield rings their property, and there’s something about the height and density of corn that is creepy just to look at, not to mention run blindly through while something you can’t see is chasing you. There’s also a tense setpiece inside a corn silo that had me googling “can you drown in corn” as soon as I got home (turns out, you can!).
Though both Krasinski and his onscreen and off-screen wife Emily Blunt give wonderful, haunting performances, the movie’s true star is Millicent Simmonds, whom some may remember as Rose from 2017’s Wonderstruck. Deaf in real life, she’s also deaf in A Quiet Place, her character Regan’s glitchy hearing aids coming in handy during a few tense scenes. I loved the added wrinkle of a deaf character in a horror movie in which sound — or the absence thereof — is key: there isn’t a lot of dialogue, but most of it is in American Sign Language, and the entire arc of the movie is built around Regan’s deafness. The movie doesn’t quite make the mistake of turning her disability into a superpower, but as the film progresses it becomes something she can use. It also helps that Simmonds herself is a star, able to evoke a kind of quiet despair that even adult actors can’t always perfect, and she expertly plays the part of a young kid protective of her family who has had to grow up way too fast.
Any creature feature has to live up to its creatures, and the beasts in A Quiet Place are terrifying both when you can’t see them and when you can. Often, entities in horror movies are much scarier when they’re invisible, or just off-screen, flitting around in the corners of the shot. We aren’t presented with much information about the creatures, we don’t know where they’re from or what happened when they arrived here other than what’s in the newspaper headlines scattered throughout a few expository shots. For the first hour or so they’re only heard crashing through the woods towards our heroes or growling at each other in the distance. Without going into too many spoilers, once you get up close to the beasts they have a fascinating design that I appreciated getting a chance to look at, even though the things you can’t see are always scarier than the things you can.
A Quiet Place sits comfortably in the fun, poppy subgenre of horror, a popcorn thriller more than a dread-infused meditation on terror, but manages to play around with its own setting and characters enough to stand out. It’s not quite as classic or revelatory as other recent entries into the genre, its scares more in-the-moment than anything anyone would lose sleep over. But its world is readily enjoyable, expertly built, with a final shot that’s truly killer, in every sense of the word.