The modern golden age of horror films that we’ve been living in hasn’t been characterized by gore, spectacle, or gimmicks, but rather by intelligence. Genre fans know that the best horror movies have always featured a degree of overlooked intelligence, but modern movies like The Witch, Get Out, and It Follows are so immediately clever that even horror skeptics have found it difficult to deny their creative brilliance.
Yet, this era of savvy horror films has come with a small compromise. While movies like The Babadook are indisputably intelligent, they’re not always as viscerally scary as exceptional funhouse fare like The Conjuring. They’re incredible pieces of horror to analyze and praise on a technical level, but they sometimes sacrifice those jolts of absolute terror in favor of something more refined.
That is just part of the reason why A Quiet Place feels so special. It’s not just an intelligent horror film, but a movie that is capable of scaring even the most experienced of horror fans with staggering ease.
A Quiet Place opens on Evelyn and Lee Abbot (real-life married couple, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski) escorting their children Marcus (Noah Jupe), Regan (Millicent Simmonds), and Beau (Cade Woodward) through an abandoned pharmacy. They only speak through sign language and hushed whispers as they carefully gather supplies. The reason for their caution becomes immediately apparent when young Beau turns on a battery-operated spaceship that was stealthily given to him by his sister. Moments later, a blur of speed in the shape of a monster descends upon Beau. We don’t need to see the gory aftermath to understand his fate.
We gradually learn that the family is living in the aftermath of an unspecified global tragedy. We don’t know exactly what happened, but we do know that the Earth is now overrun with creatures who are capable of hearing common noises from tremendous distances. If they hear you, they hunt you. Considering that these creatures have no discernible weaknesses, making noise pretty much guarantees your immediate death.
Very little of that information is verbally communicated to the audience. Instead, we’re left to examine the front pages of old newspapers, scribbles on whiteboards, and the fallout of certain events in order to begin to understand what is happening. That tactic might frustrate viewers looking for more substantial explanations, but even they must appreciate the way that A Quiet Place deftly avoids all but the most necessary of expository scenes.
Indeed, the movie’s calling card is its subtlety. Director John Krasinski might be relatively inexperienced behind the camera, but you’d never know it based on how expertly he uses visual cues to tell his story. We don’t need anyone to tell us why the family is walking barefoot across freshly-laid sand paths or why the children are playing Monopoly with pieces of cloth and yarn to appreciate the various little things that our heroes have to do in order to survive. Every time that an item which might produce sound is introduced into a scene – such as an old wood floor or a cooking pan – we cringe in anticipation of the possibility that something is about to go horribly wrong.
While these subtle elements are expertly used for the purposes of horror – a loose nail soon becomes the most terrifying character in the film – it’s Krasinski’s ability to build the film’s characters through visual storytelling that makes A Quiet Place such an artistic achievement.
That is especially true of the film’s greatest character, Regan. Regan, much like actress Millicent Simmonds, is a deaf teenage girl. She is clearly disturbed by what happened to her younger brother and believes that the rest of the family blames her for his death as much as she blames herself. The moments of the film when she allows herself to express her true emotion are haunting not just because they are shot in such a way that makes the audience unsure whether or not Regan is making noise, but because we understand that the family has phased out all but the most necessary of communication. That leaves little room for Regan or anyone else to discuss their emotions.
Yet, we soon come to see Regan as the family’s strength, if for no other reason than the implication that their previous knowledge of sign language has given them an advantage in this world that the unknown number of remaining human survivors might not possesses. Her determination to be more than a survivor is always admirable even when it manifests itself via questionable decisions.
That’s not to say the rest of the film’s minimal cast don’t instantly endear themselves to the viewer. Evelyn and Lee offer a calming presence that just shouldn’t be possible in a scenario this devoid of hope. The real-life relationship between Krasinski and Blunt – and their experience as parents – has clearly helped them convey the overwhelming dread that parents would feel in this scenario. Beau, meanwhile, openly struggles with the sheer terror of the family’s circumstances in a way that makes him appropriately relatable. His physical acting is impressive for an actor his age, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is just the start of his horror film career.
As substantial as A Quiet Place‘s emotional weight is, however, it is ultimately the film’s status as a piece of pure horror that will come to define it.
Actually, the film’s final hour is one of the most impressive displays of maintained dread that you’ll ever see in a movie. Without giving too much away, it revolves around the movie’s greatest unspoken plot element; Evelyn’s pregnancy. We can’t imagine how anyone could possibly deliver a crying newborn into this world without dooming the entire family. The details of her delivery trigger a series of escalating incidents that leave you little chance to breathe. If you rarely feel that sense of “inescapable dread” that is sometimes used to describe horror films, you can rest assured that you will experience it here.
As brilliant as that sequence is, it – and other key parts of the movie – are compromised somewhat by the decision to place the movie’s creatures in such a prominent on-screen role. While ILM did a fantastic job with the overall design of these monsters, they’re still rather obvious pieces of CGI in a film that is otherwise a testament to the virtues of minimalism. It’s enough to make you wonder if Krasinski and the rest of the crew would have been better off hinting at their presence through rustling stalks of corn and shadows on the wall rather than showcasing them so openly.
That doesn’t feel like the film’s goal, though. Perhaps it could have been a quiet family drama spiced by the lingering dread of more traditional horror – such as what we saw in The Witch – but A Quiet Place instead opts to be something even more impressive; a crowd-pleasing horror film that respects the intelligence of the audience even while it scares them beyond the realm of reason.
John Krasinski may be a self-described scaredy cat who never really considered himself a fan of horror films, but he has crafted a movie that may ironically be remembered as the loudest declaration yet that we are indeed living in a golden age of horror films. From its silent opening to the burst of cheers that will no doubt end many of the movie’s screenings, A Quiet Place is an instant classic that begs to be experienced with a theater full of emotional hostages.