Film Review: ‘A Quiet Place’ Cranks Up The Tension to Maximum Volume

John Krasinski of NBC’s “The Office” fame ironically finds nothing amusing about a post-apocalyptic family in preternatural peril. As writer-director, Krasinski devises a centralized ordeal in which the sound of silence is key to survival. This unique conceit skillfully lures the audience into muted submission. To make even the slightest peep would shatter its immersive, unnerving grip. Aided (and arguably bested) by wife Emily Blunt and child actors Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe, John Krasinski delivers the most tension-fueled horror movie since “The Conjuring.”

Set in the near future, mankind has been reduced to small herds of people living off the land. Creatures with lethal limbs are the cause of this human scarcity, their origin best discovered outside of this review. These monsters are triggered by the sound of indiscriminate degree. Speech, crunching of the ground beneath one’s feet, or even the constant hum of electricity will instantly summon them. The source of the sound will be reduced to nothingness, human flesh the apparent victim of the hunt. This genocidal scourge leaves the Abbott family in daily turmoil, making every step and interaction the weight of their lives.

For 85 days since the first appearance of the creatures, the Abbotts have made regular supply trips into the abandoned town outside their forest-adjacent farmhouse. On the last occasion, tragedy strikes and deepens a dysfunction mutually exclusive from the beasts. The Abbott’s eldest, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), is deaf yet still feels like an outsider to her father, Lee (Krasinski), despite the family’s reliance on sign language. Worsening matters is Regan’s newfound guilt over the recent catastrophe.

Regan and Lee are central to the family schism, though both excel at grating nerves. Blunt’s Evelyn Abbott and son Marcus (Noah Jupe) are the lesser half insignificance but are guaranteed to be favored by viewers. Krasinski and Simmonds have zero onscreen chemistry, which while essential for their characters’ detached relationship, never coalesces past strained kinship. Simmonds’ Regan is understandably moody, though her jadedness winds up putting the family in greater danger. Often the audience will find themselves loathing her mood swings since they signal further exposure to death. If viewers can look past the annoying combativeness between father and daughter, there’s a sweet message to be extracted. “A Quiet Place” posits that a child doesn’t need fixing; they need love to mend.

Maximizing tension and causing audiences to shudder uncontrollably are what this film does brilliantly. Marco Beltrami’s taut score is incorporated sparingly but at just the right moment of expiration. Moreover, Erik Aadahl and Michael Barosky should be Oscar nominee shoo-ins for their epic integration of sound. The way silence and sound riff off each other paves a groundbreaking way of transcending the horror experience. Neither are very accommodating — and often make things extremely unpleasant — but both effects are required to survive.

Many of the creature-human confrontations are apparently inspired by classic horror moments ranging from “Alien” to “Jurassic Park.” However, the film’s intriguing high concept made these proceedings feel fresh and evolved in impact. Case in point: Emily Blunt — who deserves Oscar “Supporting Actress” consideration for losing her cool but never her grit — has a scene involving a floorboard nail and an uninvited guest that’s a horror sequence all-timer.

Also, the film’s B-movie plot is elevated by superior craftsmanship. The elaborately constructed set pieces — which include a giant cornfield and an ominous silo — entrench viewers in a setting that’s equal parts expansive and claustrophobic. Krasinski and his entire team execute style with orchestral prowess, commanding attention and restricting all but vision. Destined to be revisited and subsequently introduced to unassuming first-timers, “A Quiet Place” is about to unleash a sound wave of deafening fanaticism.

“A Quiet Place” is distributed by Paramount Pictures and releases nationwide on Friday, April 6th.

GRADE: (★★★½)