Perhaps, in hindsight, I should have seen this one coming. This year, we’ve seen Paramount lose confidence in the box office prospects of both The Cloverfield Paradox and Annihilation, inking deals that sent two films direct to Netflix in the UK, rather than letting them see the inside of a cinema. In the case of A Quiet Place, though, it’s stayed firmly on the cinema schedule. Perhaps that’s because of Paramount’s ongoing deal with Michael Bay’s production company, Platinum Dunes, that backed the project. Or maybe it’s because the studio has enjoyed success with lower budget, ultimately very profitable horror movies.
I think, though, it had just seen the film, and knew that this was one it had to back.
A Quiet Place is the latest, comfortably highest profile movie directorial effort of John Krasinski, still best known for his winning turn as Jim in the US take of The Office. For his movie, that he also co-wrote along with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, he’s cast Emily Blunt (to whom he happens to be married), that instantly lends the project some gravitas. But the rest of his ensemble – outside of himself and Blunt – is pretty much unknown.
The resultant film, though, is damn near unmissable.
The setup is eery, if a little familiar. A small family or group caught in a world seemingly absent of others has been explored to various degrees in recent films such as The Girl With All The Gifts and last year’s hugely divisive It Comes At Night. Here though, we quickly learn that if you want to stay alive, you have to be quiet, a point brutally, brilliantly demonstrated early on with the help of a simple children’s toy. It’s an early scene that acts as a prologue for a movie that takes place some time afterwards, but that instantly sets the tone and stakes for what follows. It felt like something out of the John Carpenter at his peak playbook.
Granted, Krasinski’s film – and its screenplay – have some fairly notable touchpoints, with flavours of War Of The Worlds for instance seeping through. And yet what’s particularly impressive is how it manages to do things with horror cinema that really haven’t been explored quite like this before. The ingredients are key. The rules of the film, that you can’t make a noise louder than that of the natural world outside, instantly for instance take language pretty much out of the equation. The film zeroes in on a family who communicate – in one case through outright necessity – using sign language. Then another ingredient is added, with the reveal that Emily Blunt’s Evelyn is heavily pregnant. A few more staple horror inclusions are added on top, but still, what all this means is that Krasinski gets to dial up a vital ingredient to quality horror: sound.
He does this in different, interesting ways. It’d be tempting, and effective I’d imagine, to outright go for silence. But there are other things going on in the film that lead him to resist that, picking his quiet moments with the measured hand of a far more experienced director. Furthermore, he also employs a hugely unsettling score from Marco Beltrami, that never lets the audience really get comfortable with what they’re hearing, yet alone what they’re seeing.
The actual on-screen story is very contained – much of the film is very much about one family, led by Blunt and Krasinki’s Evelyn and Lee – trying not only to survive, but to find at least a dose of happiness in a world that’s clearly been decimated. In Millicent Simmonds, too, the film has an extraordinary young performer. In Emily Blunt, a lead who gives – not said lightly – one of her best ever performances.
There’s the odd moment in A Quiet Place where it veers a little more towards the conventional, and away from the extraordinary. But there are rare. Instead, the film had me on the ropes fairly early on, and kept coming. Simply as piece of horror, this is the tensest I’ve felt since It Follows, the armrests of my chair being squeezed within an inch of upholstery strangulation. Furthermore, I found the film really unexpectedly moving. It wrapped this into the midst of a production that follows and pays some service to genre, too.
Days after watching A Quiet Place, it was still rattling around my head. I really think it’s something very, very special, stopping at just short of 90 minutes, and making me want to down a beverage, and go straight back in for another round. It’s smart, scary, emotional and quite, quite brilliant, with barely a sliver of fat on it.
I’ve already seen comparisons made to The Blair Witch Project, but don’t believe it. Perhaps if you take it on the surface there’s some merit to the argument. But under the cover of a very accessible horror feature, there’s an awful lot going on in A Quiet Place that makes it very much its own thing. For me, it’s really, really unmissable, and a flat-out must-see.
A Quiet Place is in UK cinemas from April 5th.