"A QUIET PLACE" — 3½ stars — Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Noah Jupe, Millicent Simmonds, Cade Woodward; PG-13 (terror and some bloody images); in general release
"A Quiet Place" is a gem of a horror film. It's high on tension, low on gore and a great option for a night out with friends — or anyone else who enjoys a big screen scare.
The plot follows a small family as it tries to survive an apocalyptic invasion of man-eating monsters. The year is 2020, and what we see of the world has been mostly cleared of human beings. We see a wall of missing persons flyers in a small town and a discarded New York Post front page that reveals the invaders hunt by sound.
To survive, the family tries to exist in absolute silence. The father is Lee Abbott, played by John Krasinski, who also directed the film. Krasinski's real-life wife Emily Blunt plays Lee's spouse, Evelyn. In a gripping opening scene at an abandoned grocery store, the youngest of their three children snatches an electric toy spaceship, then gets snatched himself by an inhuman apparition that slashes across the screen.
From here "A Quiet Place" skips ahead a year, as the Abbotts have managed to settle down in a remote farmhouse surrounded by rolling hills and, judging by the nightly beacons, a handful of other survivors. An underground workroom shows the fruit of Lee's efforts to solve their predicament — various newspaper clippings, a whiteboard, a table full of equipment. Lee's convinced that the creatures are blind, but a true weakness is still beyond his grasp.
We watch the Abbotts go about their daily business, barefoot and on alert at all times. The only respite is on regular fishing trips to a nearby river, where the rushing water is loud enough to allow for some quiet conversation and contemplation.
Evelyn is pregnant and due soon, but she and Lee understand that babies aren't known for their quiet lifestyles. Combined with the depressed state of Regan (Utah's Millicent Simmonds), who blames herself for the loss of her younger brother, and Marcus (Noah Jupe), who is just young enough to be petrified at the idea of venturing out of his father's immediate vicinity, it's clear that the family's relative peace isn't going to last.
It's hard to think of a lot of recent examples that can match "A Quiet Place" in terms of tension. Krasinski's movie is so tense, in fact, that it can keep a whole movie theater silent in anticipation for long stretches, and these days, that's no small thing. The constant state of tension makes the periodic jump scares feel effective instead of cheap, and the decision to steer away from the usual blood and guts makes the film much more accessible without compromising frights at all.
Krasinski also does a fantastic job of bringing multiple story threads together into moments that will accelerate your heart rate and put a smile on your face at the same time. This is a fun, fun movie.
One of the things that makes the movie so effective is the decision to base the story around a family. It's easy to imagine the same "don't make a sound" concept built around a typical teen slasher movie. But rather than just let the bad guy work through the cast one by one, Krasinski's family scenario raises the stakes considerably: Everyone is crucial. No one is expendable. The early loss of their youngest was catastrophic, not just a checkmark on a list.
If you have to make any complaints, you could argue that the third act isn't quite as satisfying as the rest of the film. But even if "A Quiet Place" isn't tied into a perfect knot at the end, it does finish with a smile. Krasinski's film is a tense ride from start to finish, and whether you watch it with a date, with some friends or on your own, it's a ride you won't forget anytime soon.
"A Quiet Place" is rated PG-13 for terror and some bloody images; running time: 90 minutes.