‘A Quiet Place’ serves up old-school scares in silence

Just when cornfields were starting to feel safe again, a creepy new flick comes along to remind us of the horrors lurking inside.

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The golden age of horror continues. Just two weeks after the premiere of the little-seen Annihilation, Paramount’s newest monster movie premiered at South by Southwest. What followed was a cleverly cryptic marketing campaign that led to rave reviews and a massive $50 million debut. The most surprising aspect of A Quiet Place’s success is that its actor-turned-director, John Krasinski, came out of nowhere and made a bombshell horror movie with less than three minutes of dialogue. Working from a script he wrote with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, Krasinski stars alongside his wife, Emily Blunt, in this haunting familial allegory.

On day 89 of an apocalyptic invasion, a couple and their children are seen rummaging through an abandoned market in an unspecified rural town. At a secluded farm nearby, the family communicates almost exclusively through sign language besides the occasional whisper or hushed conversation. Lee is a wilderman and an engineer; Evelyn is a homemaker, nurse and teacher. Together, the Abbotts plan heavily to keep their children safe from a world terrorized by sightless aliens with hypersensitive hearing. Their deaf daughter, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), militantly protects her younger brother, Marcus (Noah Jupe), from the violent creatures that sweep through an entire forest in the few seconds that follow a laugh or cry.

A Quiet Place is a campy type of movie that's as intelligent as it is ludicrous and as authentic as it is derivative. It consistently parallels other home invasion and monster movies, yet it preserves its own astounding singularity. The cornfields and family dynamics will call to mind M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, but Krasinski and Blunt do much more to prop up the family theme with their heartfelt performances and chemistry. Their creation is a metaphor for parenthood that effectively contemplates the elemental fear of a child’s joy becoming deadly.

An artfully retro accomplishment that harkens back to the silent era of old Hollywood, this production is actually far from a work of minimalism. Sound designers Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl use meticulously crafted sound envelopes to demonstrate each character's perspective while remaining conscious of how diegetic and nondiegetic sound builds careful meaning throughout the story. When there’s such a heightened awareness of noise (and lack thereof), it starts to inform all other aspects of the filmmaking.

Krasinski is surprisingly good at using silence to make his film’s frightening nature more practical and less gimmicky. Camera angles and distances are strategically placed by cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen, while Marco Beltrami’s score punctuates the subtlest of sounds heard from door hinges, leaky pipes and one lone nail poking up from the basement stairs. Audiences will surely notice how jump scares and set pieces are amplified when the rest of the movie is silent because they are skillfully contrived to creep up on viewers.

After his tedious Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and the twee Sundance drama, The Hollars, Krasinski has broken through as a rising director. However, Simmonds is indisputably his secret weapon here. In a landmark commercial feature that caters to the deaf actress, she is an emotional powerhouse in her second film role following Todd Haynes’ overlooked Wonderstruck. With high-concept cinematic material that enhances its themes and arcs, A Quiet Place breaks thrilling new ground for artists with disabilities while extrapolating the horror genre itself.

Edited by Claire Colby | ccolby@themaneater.com

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