A Quiet Place Review
Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
Director John Krasinski's third feature, and by far his most accomplished, "A Quiet Place" is a pretty crafty small-scale thriller set a few years in the future, with minimal dialogue and maximal, human-eating monsters. The creatures' origin is never discussed or explained by way of the usual sheepish exposition about a meteor or some garden-variety bio-disaster. Produced by Michael Bay, the movie takes them for granted, and then goes about figuring a vanquishing plan. It's a survivalist's dream: living off the grid, close to the land, home-schooling the kids, no modern culture or digital distractions to corrupt anyone's wits.
It's a farm movie, since most of it takes place on a farm or inside a very quiet farmhouse, as well as a newfangled western, full of sincere, stripped-down emotion and frontier grit. "Day 89," the opening title reads. The plague of monsters is well underway, and the town of Little Falls, N.Y., has been abandoned. (We view the town name briefly; the film was shot in Little Falls, Pawling and Beacon, N.Y.)
The prologue sets the stakes good and high. Mother Evelyn (top-billed Emily Blunt, a warming presence throughout) has ventured into the decimated town with her husband, Lee (Krasinski, Blunt's husband in actual life) and their three children. A few minutes later, in a swift, violent flash, one is gone.
As we learn in bloody, fleeting dribs and drabs, the monsters have insectlike legs and crablike pinchers. They're blind but blessed with an acute sense of hearing. A year and a half into the storyline, Lee and Evelyn live in virtual silence, as does their hearing son Marcus (Noah Jupe, big on the astonished and terrified reaction shots) and their deaf daughter, Regan (Millicent Simmonds, so good in the recent Todd Haynes film "Wonderstruck"). There's a cloud of residual guilt hanging over Regan, tied to the prologue.
It's inaccurate to characterize "A Quiet Place" as a quiet movie. In the proximity of a waterfall, for example, father and son can have a chat about life and death. And in the proximity of the film's overbearing sound design, in cahoots with composer Marco Beltrami's "Sicario"-like chords of doom and relentless jump-scare cues, Krasinksi's $17 million dollar film delivers a lot of the usual commercial zaps that may well secure him a financial success.
My favorite moment, an encounter between Regan and one of the monsters in a cornfield, plays with sound and image and tension, creatively. Other bits are more shameless. The centerpiece finds Blunt's character delivering a baby, alone, in anguished silence while one of the bugglies is poking around the house. I don't know if I'd call "A Quiet Place" enjoyable; it's more grueling than cathartic. But the upbeat, can-do shotgun-blasting climax gets the crowd going. I'd characterize the appeal as located at the dusty intersection of mid-period M. Night Shyamalan and Cormac McCarthy's "The Road." Working from a script he wrote with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, director Krasinski exhibits a sure sense of what will hold the audience, moment to moment.
There's one significant exception. "A Quiet Place" depends on a single plausibility factor above all: These creatures find their human prey through their sense of hearing, and they can hear almost anything, from long distances. But too often in Krasinski's movie, the human characters are rustling the cornstalks or knocking over this or that, and nothing comes of it.
I know, I know: Thanks very much, Mr. Logic Cop, Mr. Realism Man. You'll have to take my word for it; typically I don't give a damn about that sort of thing. With "A Quiet Place," there are times when the screws tighten and you quit dwelling on that stuff. And there are times when they loosen, and you start dwelling again.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for terror and some bloody images).
Running time: 1:35