- HUSHED UP: Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Regan (Millicent Simmonds) are hiding from man-eating bugs in "A Quiet Place."
The title of "A Quiet Place" only gets more wry as you get further into one of the tensest, tautest horror debuts in recent memory. The Abbott family — led by Emily Blunt as Evelyn, and John Krasinski, who also writes and directs, as Lee — are among the only survivors of an apparent monster invasion. They appear to live on a farm on a small town maybe in upstate New York or something; not that it matters much, because everyone everywhere seems to have been croaked by these massive, spindly legged bugs who can't see or smell but who can hear a mouse burp from the next county over. A bit of land in the country, some kiddos, a quiet place to grow old, that's the dream, man. Except in the theater you'll be so keyed up, every squeak of a chair, every gurgle from your stomach, every sniffle from the audience comes across as a possible death sentence.
How did this family last even a few months into this massacre? They've got a bit of an advantage in their oldest kid, Regan, played by Millicent Simmonds who, like her character, is deaf. Already, they speak sign language and they've clearly adapted: They walk only on paths of sand they've laid down; they never wear shoes; bare patches on their floors point to wear made by a thousand steps on creak-free points; they eat their dinners off of large, soft leaves rather than brittle, droppable plates. When Regan plays Monopoly with her little brother, Marcus (Noah Jupe), you can see they've swapped out the hard-tacking metal pieces for little felt shapes, and they roll the dice on a blanket. The omnipresent silence for them also covers a deep reserve of loss and fear. They have a baby on the way, a time bomb that we see Evelyn prepare for by arranging an oxygen tank beside a thick wooden bassinet outfitted with a heavy, screamproof lid.
For little details like these, Krasinski the writer/director is actually a better fit for this project than Krasinski the actor. Not that he's bad (it's frankly no shame to be upstaged by Emily frickin' Blunt, who is as fierce as ever and is also married to Krasinski), but even behind a bushy, the-world-is-doomed beard he still has the rounded nose and big, bright eyes of Jim from "The Office" — he can't seem quite to wear the stress that would accompany endless months of certain death waiting for even one tiny misstep. The world he creates here, though, is a fun, dark ride that sets a specific set of gears in motion and then lets them spin honestly.
"A Quiet Place" is also (this is important, in the horror genre) a movie made without cruelty for its characters. Family lies at the heart of the film, and choosing one family to hold up our hope for humanity lets us fall for them fully. No "Independence Day" here; there is no resistance, or greater plan to rescue the planet. There's not a disposable person here, nor is there a disposable line. There's just the hope that you can birth and raise your children without seeing them pulled apart like string cheese in front of your eyes. One of the film's producers told The Hollywood Reporter that its wispy 67-page script included maps and diagrams and perhaps four mere pages of dialogue. In the past 30 years of seeing new-release movies, I can recall only two with less audible talking: "The Artist," which in 2011 won the Oscar as a throwback to a silent film; and "All Is Lost," Robert Redford's 2013 one-man show about a solo sailor who's lost at sea. It's a show-don't-tell world in "A Quiet Place," to a degree uncommon for horror or for movies at large, and one without gimmicks or shortcuts. See it in the theater while you can; the bigger and more exposed you are in a silent room, the more you'll enjoy it.