Films gleefully exploit sound design to elicit emotions from viewers, and horror thrillers are guiltiest of all. From the scare chord to psycho strings, thrillers have used sound to make audiences jump or hide in their jackets. The primary conceit of A Quiet Place is that it eschews sound, with good portions of the film punctuated by dead silence, making the sound-dampening acoustics of the theater far more important than whether it’s equipped with Dolby Atmos. It gets so quiet at times that the loudest sound you’ll hear is someone’s hand reaching in for popcorn.
It’s 2020 and the world has been invaded by blind, heavily armored, lightning-quick creatures who hunt living things through sound. The Abbotts are a family surviving in upstate New York, hunkered down in a sprawling farm-cum-apocalyptic bunker. John Krasinski—who also directs the film—plays Lee Abbott, a dad determined to see his wife and two children through the invasion. Krasinki’s real-life wife Emily Blunt plays his pregnant wife Evelyn, while Millicent Simmonds is their deaf daughter Regan. Rounding out the family is Noah Jupe, who plays the jumpy young son, Marcus.
The four surviving Abbotts navigate through their days walking on sandy footpaths, using sign language, and playing Monopoly on blanketed floors.Never mind that the Abbotts didn’t quite think things through carrying a baby to term in a world populated by crotchety flesh-eating monsters that home in on sounds like, oh, a newborn’s cries. The Abbotts seem to have a plan for when the baby finally arrives, but you keep wondering if it’ll all work and for how long. A Quiet Place has just the right amount of horror movie illogic to keep it going, and you can gloss over the fact that the monsters can hear loud noises inside a house from very far away but can’t hear breathing while in the same room because it’s just too fun.
A Quiet Place is superbly acted, and Blunt gives a powerful, wordless performance as she tries to elude monsters while trying to keep her family together. It’s not just about scares as the Abbotts come to grips with a family tragedy which has put a strain on the relationship between Lee and Regan. It’s terrifying enough as a parent to raise children in the world today, and the film raises the difficulty level by throwing humanity-eradicating monsters into the mix. At one point, Evelyn asks Lee, “what are we?” as she questions their ability to protect their children. If you’re an adult who’s ever failed at keeping children quiet (that’s probably most of us), then you’d know the answer. You’d be dead.
Krasinski, who co-wrote the script with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, expertly crafts a narrative using purely visual cues, dropping audiences right into the action without much explanation. The film opens to Day 89 of the invasion, and everything comes together without any exposition. It’s a master class in showing and not telling, allowing empty streets, old newspapers, and Lee’s obsessive notes about the monsters to complete the puzzle of what’s going on in the world.
At a certain point in apocalyptic scenarios, one questions why anyone would bother to continue living in a world so clearly defeated. There’s a scene where Lee and Marcus stumble upon a fellow survivor who has just lost all reason to live and who does exactly what a grieving, despondent human would do: scream in anguish. It’s moments of loudness like this that allow the film and the audience to breathe; just when you think Krasinski has grown too enamored with the film’s gimmick, he breaks into sequences with short, but poignant dialogue. When monsters are listening, you only say the important things.
Briskly paced at just over 90 minutes, the film upends the device of using sound to startle audiences, instead immersing them in uneasy silence. An immersive sound system is one of the most essential components of a good cinema, and for most films lousy audio can completely ruin the experience. But A Quiet Place is a thriller unlike any other and your greatest nemeses will be yourself as you try to keep still and completely quiet.