John Krasinski knows where the horror is, and where the money is in “A Quiet Place,” and keeps the camera in tight on it.
It’s the faces registering the quaking fear, the shaken-to-their-marrow terror of his actors, who make this compact genre piece pay off. When you’re married to one of the great screen actresses of our time (Emily Blunt), have cast the wonderful Millicent Simmonds of “Wonderstuck” and aren’t bad on camera yourself, you build your thriller on close-ups, close-ups and silence.
Fingers rise to lips, eyes widen in alarm and the scream trying to leap out of your throat has to be suppressed at all cost when, as a tattered New York Post headline silently shouts, “It’s Sound!”
Here’s a horror movie that, like “Insidious,” recognizes the value in great acting, even in a sausage factory genre where that’s too often an afterthought. “A Quiet Place” is gripping, pulse-pounding and grimly satisfying “You are there” frights, jolts and pathos.
Eighty-nine days ago, something happened — the monsters came. And human civilization apparently ran out of time to adapt. The headlines Lee (Krasinski) posted on his market board are loaded with clues — headlines, “Stay Quiet — Stay Alive” — and questions.
There’s no more back story than that. The Abbotts; Lee, Evelyn (Blunt) and their three kids (Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cade Woodward) have become survivalists. Dad’s sanded every path they normally take, painted the spots on the wooden floors of their old farmhouse where the boards don’t creak.
They can grow their own food, raid the abandoned pharmacy in the nearby town for medicine, home school their kids and make their own entertainment — Monopoly, with the dice silently rolled on a blanket. And they can all speak sign language because older sister Regan (Simmonds) is deaf.
Their days are spent on silent chores, pasting newspapers on the walls for soundproofing, lighting the nightly signal fire to let the world know they’re still there.
Because the gigantic, lightning-quick preying mantis monsters are never more than a dropped dish, sneeze or slammed door away, ready to slash and slaughter with motives no human understands.
Think about that set-up for a minute, because screenwriters Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and Krasinski have. How can you keep children safe? How can you keep them quiet long enough to reach adulthood? Kids are clumsy, noisy and make mistakes. Discipline here is absorbed and self-motivated. It has to be.
How can a child who can’t hear the noise she makes or the rumbling approach of menace manage?
Krasinski finds the grace notes almost smothered by the endless dread of threat — a tender, earbuds shared husband-and-wife dance to Neil Young’s plaintive “Harvest Moon,” extreme close-ups that capture the tenderness the kids feel for each other and their parents, the deaf teen doing what teens everywhere do — rebelling.
The director co-star is formidable and heart-tugging here, but Blunt, as you might guess, will tear your heart out when she isn’t making you fear for her next too-loud breath.
The plot bears no more scrutiny than the average vampire, zombie, “last family alive” aliens invade thriller.
But the sound design is Oscar-worthy. And the film’s striking reliance on visuals was emphasized to me as I saw it in one of those 4D motion-activated-seats multiplexes (a nuisance) in the Dutch Antilles, with Spanish subtitles translating the sign language. Do the Abbotts really need ASL? Do we need the subtitles to know what is happening and where this is going?
No. Bravura movie-making doesn’t need back story, spoon-fed exposition or endless conversations. We can guess how the old World War II adage “Loose lips sink ships” doomed our chatterbox, digitally-connected civilization.
“A Quiet Place” makes for an entertaining, nerve-rattling essay on what might save us, the power of connection and the symphony our environment provides when we give it the silence it begs for and so seldom gets.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for terror and some bloody images
Cast: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe
Credits:Directed by John Krasinski, script by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and John Krasinski. A Paramount release.
Running time: 1:31