Getting a hand squeezed until it’s purple and refusing to breathe for 95 minutes on a Friday night is the only way to view “A Quiet Place.” If a pregnant friend is present to soak in the mother-protecting-her-young narrative, it’s a trifecta.
Director John Krasinski stars as family man Lee in his new horror movie, a work of love featuring his wife Emily Blunt as Evelyn, an expectant mother in a post-apocalyptic world besieged by blind alien creatures who kill anything they hear. The film is an enthralling family drama sprinkled with moments of sheer terror, showing the talents of child actors Millicent Simmonds (who is deaf) and Noah Jupe. Like “Get Out,” another genre-bending horror film made by a former TV star, “A Quiet Place” stands on its own against its many influences and contemporaries.
This is no cheap jump-scare adventure. The film hints at “Alien” and “Stranger Things” without succumbing to mere imitation, and its development of every character is far from forced, demonstrating the skills Krasinski learned from his experience as Jim on “The Office.” Simmonds’ scenes in particular are fascinating because the sound is completely cut to reflect her perspective. In a world where sound is fatal, the girl cannot even hear herself breathe because of her defunct cochlear implant.
The most notable quality of “A Quiet Place” isn’t its use of panoramic and claustrophobic shots to convey peace and terror respectively or its gradual unveiling of the terrifying four-legged aliens in a manner similar to “Jaws.” Viewers will instantly notice that there is almost no noise at all for the film’s opening minutes. This isn’t done purely to introduce the characters and setting — it’s the mode of the entire film. There are only 90 lines of dialogue, less than one utterance a minute. Only two audible screams erupt the entire movie.
With a real-life married couple on screen, and a real-life deaf child playing their daughter, the characters display chemistry and a genuine bond. What separates this survival story from movies like “The Road” is the heavy use of subtitles and sign language. As one character is in fact deaf, and the family can’t make noise, they communicate through signs as though they’ve used them for years.
In the silence of the film, the characters demonstrate just how far a couple is willing to go to preserve their children. They even attempt to bring a new life into a world where a single cry of a baby could get their entire family killed. “A Quiet Place” is not a horror movie that scares its audience into never leaving home alone again. Instead, it challenges the limits of what a parent might sacrifice for a son or daughter.
“Who are we if we can’t protect them?” Evelyn says of her children. Her question seems pointed more at the audience than her security-obsessed husband. What will a parent do to protect a child?
In some cases, that might mean fighting an armored lightning-fast alien creature with a shotgun and a farm ax. It could also require distracting the monster with an oven timer while an unborn child threatens to be born at any moment. These moments are a few of the sparse bursts of intensity that have “A Quiet Place” leading the box office at the moment.
For an hour and a half, “A Quiet Place” whittles down the issues of the outside world to a complicated yet honest representation of the relationship between parent and child. If horror movies are a turn-off for some moviegoers, this is one that deserves a chance. There are few things that compare to a mother racking a shotgun as she smiles at the daughter she’s sworn to protect. Bring the whole family, even expectant mothers, and a change of pants.