A Quiet Place is almost aggressive in its simplicity: a blind alien race that hunts by hearing and has virtually wiped out humanity is stalking a family in a deserted rural setting. In order to survive, the family must be silent. So … they are.
The scene is set early on—it is Day 89, a title card informs us, though we do not know what it is the 89th day of—while the Abbott family picks through a pharmacy to find some meds for their sick son, Marcus (Noah Jupe). His sister Regan (Millicent Simmonds) keeps her younger brother Beau (Cade Woodward) company, while mom Evelyn (Emily Blunt) finds the antibiotics. Lee (John Krasinski), the patriarch, keeps an eye out for danger at the front of the store. The family speaks in sign language, a skill they no doubt picked up before the invasion since Regan is deaf. The scene ends with a tragic lesson on what happens when the family's code of silence is not adhered to.
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The first lines of dialogue spoken at full volume—as opposed to whispered or signed or whispered while signing—in A Quiet Place come roughly 40 minutes into the movie. There are only a handful of such lines throughout, and the enforced silence leads to an almost-unbearable level of tension: every cracking branch sounds like a shotgun blast, every creak of a floorboard sounds like cannon fire. Every misstep means possible death.
Krasinski, who directed and co-wrote the script in addition to starring, does a masterful job of walking us through what living in a world without sound would look like. His camera lingers on bare feet walking on paths of ash and sand that the family has laid down on their farm and into town to help muffle their footsteps. He often holds steady on faces drawn tight in terror when a simple household accident could signify sudden, horrible slaughter.
Every performance in this movie is perfect. Krasinski's sad eyes and woodsman's beard help him make flesh the deepest, darkest fear of every father: the potential inability of all men, even the best-prepared and most intense, to keep their kids and pregnant wife safe from harm. Blunt is radiant and rough, calling to mind her great performance in Looper, and she nails the most important line of dialogue in the film: "Who are we if we can't protect them?"
Millicent Simmonds, the breakout star in last year's woefully under-seen Wonderstruck, is heartbreaking as the Abbots' lone daughter, reflecting in her confusion and anger the strangeness that must accompany living through the end of the world. And Jupe does solid work as a terrified little boy who wants nothing more than to stay at home where it's safe. Ish.
If I'm going to pick nits here, I might have suggested that Krasinski avoid some of the more obvious exposition-delivery devices, such as a whiteboard in his workshop that explain the aliens are blind and tough to kill, with the word "Weakness?" at the bottom. Violating the imperative of "show, don't tell" by showing us what you would have told us is a bit cheap. He trusts the audience so much elsewhere that this feels like a creaky board his characters would have managed to avoid.
And yet, if that's the sole mistake Krasinski has made—and I think it might be—in this well-paced (95 minutes or so) genre exercise, he still passes with flying colors. A Quiet Place is one of the best films I've seen this year and I can't imagine too many more will top it.