A Quiet Place is set some time after much of the world’s population has been wiped out by formidable monsters that hunt through sound. The monsters are still around, but Lee and Evelyn Abbott (John Krasinski and Emily Blunt) have been managing to survive with their Children Regan and Marcus (Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe) by living out a nearly silent existence. But it’s only a matter of time before someone slips up, and the Abbotts have yet to find a way to really deal with their hunters. Making things more complicated is the fact that Evelyn is pregnant, and her due date is coming fast.
The core drama of the picture is all theoretically built around the increasingly strained relationship between Lee and his deaf daughter Regan, the film using the enforced silence as a symbol for the words that have yet to be said between them following a horrible incident that left both of them emotionally scarred. But to be honest, the film doesn’t really handle this all that well. Most of the very few words spoken in this movie try to spell out the crux of this conflict, and it mostly feels clumsy.
The film is clumsy in other ways, too. The camera keeps going back to a whiteboard in Lee’s basement workshop, listing what they know about the monsters, and big, often highlighted rhetorical question: “what is the weakness?” The film’s lack of trust in the audience to pick up context clues can be a little dispiriting, especially when the rest of it is actually pretty good. The film works best when the monsters are around, their presence felt deep in the silence, threatening to bring grievous bodily harm to everyone on screen.
The movie puts together some deeply unsettling sequences, much of it built around the tension of a silent room. The film smartly establishes what little it takes to set off the peril, and what kind of horrible violence serves as a consequence. So, every scene, no matter how seemingly tranquil at first, is rife with the tension of something suddenly going wrong. In the film’s back half, that tension just doesn’t let up. It feels like the characters are always one small noise away from a very painful, horrific death. If one parses all of the decisions of the characters, it starts to feel a little contrived. But the film moves swiftly enough that it doesn’t quite matter.
As a director, Krasinski seems to lack a bit of confidence, resulting in the clumsiness in much of the film’s dramatic exposition. But he delivers when things get ugly. As an actor, he does not disappoint. But it is Emily Blunt who really brings it in this movie. The film’s longest sustained danger sequence benefits greatly from Blunt’s performance. She becomes a portrait of pained determination as she fights to stay alive under truly horrible circumstances. Millicent Simmonds, last seen in Wonderstruck, continues to be wonderful. And Noah Jupe holds up his end of the bargain as well.
A Quiet Place works pretty well overall. It really shines when it dials in on the experience of these characters, drawing the audience into the same eerie silence that they’re all dealing with. Some of its elements don’t stand up to much scrutiny, but the movie is quick enough and short enough that it doesn’t really matter. All that matters in the moment is that these characters aren’t in full control of their environment, that sooner or later, someone’s going to slip up and draw their hunters through some unintended sound. The film let’s us swim in that tension, building anxiety to truly satisfying levels.