A Quiet Place makes it starkly apparent how loud other movies have become.
Co-written by John Krasinski, who also stars and directs, the movie takes place in the aftermath of an unexplained invasion of terrifying monsters—giant, icky, praying mantis-type creatures who hunt their prey by sound. A Quiet Place opens some 90 days after their arrival and focuses on the Abbotts, a young family who has managed to survive by creeping through their abandoned small town like church mice. The Abbotts consist of father Lee (Krasinski); mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt, Krasinski’s real-life wife); pre-teen daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), who, like Simmonds herself, has a hearing impairment; younger son Marcus (Noah Jupe); and toddler Beau (Cade Woodward). We first meet them tiptoeing through an abandoned pharmacy, desperately in search of medicine for the ailing Marcus.
Krasinski shows a knack for cinematically establishing this horror scenario and wringing significant suspense from it. When Evelyn sees a shelf of pill bottles, the one she needs is tipped on its side, so that she has to slowly, ever so slowly, turn it over without making the slightest sound. Frequently the camera focuses on the Abbotts’ feet, as that is the main source of noise they emit. There is a score, but it’s relatively restrained. Instead the soundscape is mostly devoted to the non-human noises—rustling leaves, whooshing wind—that now dominate the world. Occasionally the movie adds another level of muffled silence when we “hear” things from Regan’s impaired point of view, demonstrating the irony and vulnerability of her condition.
After a terrifying encounter with one of the creatures in that opening sequence, A Quiet Place settles in to establish the Abbotts’ unusual domestic routine: replenishing pathways of sand around the farm where they live, so as to dampen their footsteps; having dinner on broad leaves rather than clinking plates; playing Monopoly with cloth tokens. Aside from the ever-present fear of making inadvertent sounds, the Abbotts seem to live in a peaceful hush. Certainly it seems like a reasonable alternative to existing within the assaultive sound design of something like, say, Rampage.
Eventually, at day 473, things kick into high gear—and from that point on the movie doesn’t stop. Evelyn has at this point become pregnant and is due any day. (The movie never clarifies whether the pregnancy is a disastrous accident or a self-destructive gesture of hope.) Left alone on the homestead one day, she goes into labor, and try as she might even her whimpers attract the creatures. From there A Quiet Place becomes a rush of horror intensity—part Alien, part Night of the Living Dead—with Evelyn’s delivery as the excruciating, gruesome centerpiece.
Blunt often brings a unique combination of delicacy and resiliency to her performances, and it’s that quality that sustains the delivery sequence, keeping you emotionally tethered no matter how outrageous things get. If you find yourself raising an eyebrow at the traditional gender roles the movie has so far seemed intent on affirming—with Blunt’s Evelyn as the domestic help and Krasinski’s Lee as the protector and provider—that proves to be all setup up for a surprising, somewhat subversive ending. I won’t give it away, but will note that the finale allows both Evelyn and Regan—the latter whom has been somewhat sidelined by her overprotective father—to share a crucial moment of empowerment.
That also proves to be the perfect place to end the film, and so A Quiet Place wisely, quickly comes to a close in that same instant. Which makes sense; if any movie knows when nothing more needs to be said, this is it.