A Quiet Place achieves near perfection as a suspense film, then falters through a relentless barrage of gratuitous jump scares. Had it maintained the courage of its tone and atmosphere throughout, without resorting to cheap scare tactics, this could have been something of a masterpiece.
As it is, A Quiet Place is a damn fine movie, anchored by strong central performances from Emily Blunt and John Krasinski (who also directs) as parents desperate to protect their children from a creature that hunts by sound. This isn’t a spoiler, believe me: the nature of the creature has been well-covered in trailers and critical reviews, and we see it within five minutes of the opening title card that tells us we’re 89 days into its scourge. After suffering a heartbreaking tragedy, we jump forward one year, as the unnamed parents, their adolescent son and pre-teen daughter (who’s deaf, as is the terrific young actress who plays her) cope with life in near silence.
Because the creature is an aural predator, any sound brings it running—and when it comes, you might as well kiss your ass goodbye. The family leverages sign language to communicate. Shoes are forbidden, replaced by dirty bare feet. Clothes are quietly washed by hand in a tub. Fish, which can be caught safely near the falls in the river (the father gently explains to his son that a sound can be masked by a louder sound near it, which is used later to great effect) are steamed in a pit, served on a bed of greens instead of a plate, and eaten quietly with the hands instead of noisy utensils. Each night, the father lights a fire from a high perch and watches for other fires in the valley to see who might still be alive, and you just know there will be fewer fires alighting as time goes on.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that the mother is heavily pregnant. Now, why anyone who’s under threat by a creature that will tear you from stem to stern at the slightest sound would risk giving birth to something that’s bound to scream straight out of the canal is beyond me. Maybe it’s for purposes of procreation since mankind appears to be fucked, and that’s fine. But maybe, just maybe, it’s a function of the screenplay, and that’s fine too, because Krasinksi wrings maximum tension out of the birth scenes, as Blunt tries desperately not to scream when her contractions kick in. (I wouldn’t even bother pondering the myriad other ways a human could make involuntary sounds, such as snoring loudly or sneezing; you could drive yourself mad with the possibilities.)
I think John Krasinski has quite a career ahead of him as a director. This movie belongs to him. Yes, he’s very good as the father who’s sole purpose in life is to protect his children from danger. But his instincts behind the camera are uncanny. He understands the inherent menace of shadows and foregrounds, of what might be hiding in the periphery of a frame. And he maximizes the silence for all its worth, building it by unnerving degrees until it practically becomes a menace of its own. This is expert, nerve-jangling stuff.