Photo by Jonny Cournoyer / Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
A Quiet Place is a cunningly constructed little horror film. Within the first few moments of the movie, directed by and starring John Krasinski, the stakes are immediately high. We are 89 days into an alien invasion and, as a newspaper headline states in the movie's most ham-fisted signpost, "IT'S SOUND!" Then, in broad daylight, something horrific happens to the most vulnerable person and, at that point, you know that nothing is off limits.
We don't get much information as to what happened in those precarious first days, or where the aliens came from, or why they're here now, but it doesn't matter: It's sound, that's what draws the apparently blind but auditorily-advanced creatures to attack. So, our family -- Krasinski as dad and Emily Blunt as mom, with a daughter and a son (played by Millicent Simmonds and Wonder's Noah Jupe, both great) -- have fashioned a life they live in silence: They walk on sand to dampen footfall, play board games with felt pieces and communicate in sign language. (The latter also because Simmonds' character, like the actress, is deaf.)
It's all dreadful and very clever how this world is established, with much credit due to the sound department and the ominous music by Marco Beltrami. Eventually, whether they are aware of it or not, even the audience is holding their breath throughout the movie, careful not to make a sound. Onscreen, the events unspool with a forebodingly slow dread as you watch the pieces quietly falling into place. Like when Blunt's Evelyn uproots a jagged nail in a step early on and you just know it'll come back eventually.
Suspense only sustains itself for so long before the movie must go boo, and A Quiet Place is chockablock with jump scares -- though, in silence, even the slightest peep will make you jump. They're rarely cheap, however. Krasinski takes trusted set pieces -- cornfields at night will forever be scary -- then twists them into inventive new tricks of terror. I'm now frightened of corn silos. It is a downright genius premise that Krasinski (along with co-writers Bryan Woods and Scott Beck) fashioned into a taut thriller, one you'll watch white knuckling your armrest or while curled into the fetal position.
Conceivably, there is a version of A Quiet Place that is a B-horror movie scaremonger about what happens when Mars (or wherever) attacks. But there are complicated family dynamics at play here, due to that horrific something from the beginning, and genuine emotional stakes that lend to a surprisingly poignant climax, that leads into one of the most kickass final movie moments in recent memory. Which is all, I'm sure, in no small part from casting Blunt, who remains exceptional in everything, so expressive and warm and formidable. (If you've seen any of the film posters, you already know she gets put through the ringer in this thriller.) (And by now, it should also be clear for those hoping that Blunt and Krasinski's first movie together would be a rom-com, this is not that.)