'A Quiet Place' film review: Sound is the enemy in this emotionally draining thriller
Two things upfront: the taut horror-thriller "A Quiet Place" (now playing in theaters nationwide) is one of the absolute must-see films of 2018. And second: go into the film cold -- know as little as possible about the premise going into the theater. Buy your ticket fully assured this is one of the great cinematic experiences of the year.
In short: A husband, wife (John Krasinski and Emily Blunt) and their two children must survive in almost total silence as they hide from a threat that hunts by sound. Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe also star.
At pretty much any point of the film - if you can somehow pull yourself out of the movie - any audience member could hear a pin drop in the cinema. "A Quiet Place" has very little dialogue - IMDb actually lists the movie's official language as American Sign Language. The threadbare sound design - primarily comprised of characters or gently brushing against objects - is a masterwork of sound minimalism that calibrates the film to near silence and compels the audience to likewise keep quiet. Eliminating all but the ambient sound accentuates the deafening silence - and every noise louder than one decibel, be it a creaking board or a squeaky hinge - sounds like a freight train.
The premise effectively makes sound the enemy - where the safety of stillness can be broken any moment. It's a constant and lethal threat that relentlessly hangs over the characters' heads at every moment. The baseline stakes are clear: make a sound and die. And the film still manages to ratchet up the stakes and tension ever higher and higher - often by revealing otherwise innocuous things about characters, mundane details in any other story have massive and distressing implications in this world. "A Quiet Place" weaponizes sound in a way that arrests the audience and creates a danger out of everything.
Director John Krasinski has crafted an economical and compact thriller, with almost not fat to trim and no frame wasted. The first act beautifully establishes the world the family lives in, the pervasive threat they live among and a complex web of conflicts between the family members. With all the rules established in act one, the rest of the film is free to go bonkers, throwing pretty much every possible obstacle at the family as their situation becomes increasingly dire. This is a non-stop thriller without almost no moment to catch your breath.
"Quiet Place" is not merely a gimmick-based horror flick - this is a character-driven drama where the characters and their strained relationships command this unceasing and harrowing thrill ride. Entire films have been focused on some of the plot threads of "A Quiet Place": how the loss of a loved one affects a family, the sci-fi elements or a damaged parent-child relationship. The high concept premise is what makes "A Quiet Place" original - but its tragically familiar dramatic elements elevate the film to greatness.
The film's over-reliance on jump scares can be forgiven when these moments are put into the context of the story. Sure, some of the timing is awfully convenient for when the threat appears or suddenly has to leave, but Krasinski makes sure the film's brutally increasing tension isn't exceeded by the jump scare moments.
Final verdict: This captivating thriller leaves the audience breathless and completely emotionally drained. The film is mercifully 90 minutes long, which is a great thing for this movie - because the human heart isn't designed to sustain much more stress than "A Quiet Place" delivers.
"A Quiet Place" is now playing in theaters nationwide. This thriller is rated PG-13 for terror and some bloody images and has a running time of 90 minutes.