Paramount

As a director and an actor, John Krasinski should be applauded for knowing the power of a close-up on a face. Maybe that’s thanks to his years on NBC’s The Office as the sardonic everyman Jim, who would mug into the camera every chance he got, serving as a sympathetic stand-in for the viewer. The specter of a long-running TV role like that is difficult to outrun no matter how talented you are; with A Quiet Place, Krasinski is all but sprinting. He directed, co-wrote, and stars in this effective bit of nerve-jangling horror, which is told almost entirely without dialogue.

Instead, we get faces—sometimes affectionate, usually stricken, often looking right at the camera. A Quiet Place is a suspenseful drama about a household existing under the most dire kind of threat. Lee (Krasinski) and Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt) live with their children in a world that has been overrun by violent creatures that are blind, covered in some kind of organic plated armor, and hunt based on sound. As long as you keep quiet, they can’t find you, but even if you manage to sneak up on one, you won’t have much luck dispatching it.

Krasinski smartly realizes that such a story should be largely told in close-up, to emphasize not only the fear of the situation, but also the intimate bonds keeping this unit together. Every micro-expression—a wrinkled forehead, a darting glance—matters when people aren’t able to speak aloud to each other. A Quiet Place is a taut piece of genre filmmaking, to be sure, though it succeeds because it leads with a believable, if heightened, portrayal of a loving family.

The world beyond the Abbotts’ country home is more mysterious, understood only through glimpses of newspaper clippings and whiteboards filled with strategic notes. Does any semblance of human civilization remain? Were these beasts created by man, or did they drop from the sky? The answers aren’t really laid out for the viewer in this script by Krasinski, Bryan Woods, and Scott Beck. All we know is the family experienced a gruesome trauma shortly after the crisis reached global proportions: In the film’s first scene, the youngest son is killed by a monster during a scavenging mission. Krasinski then jumps a year ahead, introducing the audience to the general infrastructure of the Abbotts’ life.

The family lives in a big, secluded house in the woods, with security cameras all around and an elaborate lighting system in place to alert for any intruders. The Abbotts are a normal enough bunch, though they farm all their own food, walk barefoot no matter where they go, and have to play Monopoly with pieces made of felt. The daughter, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), is deaf (the family mostly communicates via sign language), and she still holds herself responsible for her younger brother’s death. The remaining Abbott son, Marcus (Noah Jupe), is more timid, resisting his father’s attempts to teach him how to survive.

Perhaps the most difficult detail to wrap one’s mind around as a viewer is that Evelyn is pregnant. The decision to bring a baby into this specific world is unthinkable—not just because the future is so grim, but also because babies are quite skilled at making noise. Still, Lee and Evelyn’s choice is the crux of the story Krasinski’s trying to tell. This is a family that’s set on thriving, and on lasting for a long time even if everything around them is unfathomably hostile. In real life, Krasinski and Blunt are married with two children; who knows how far A Quiet Place’s allegory extends to their own experiences. But the film is above all else about parenting, and navigating painful decisions amid impossible circumstances.

Each subplot reflects Lee and Evelyn’s fears about raising their kids. Regan is coddled by her parents and not allowed to explore on her own because her deafness makes it harder to sense threat. Much of A Quiet Place’s drama revolves around her need for Lee to accept that she’s a growing person with an intense desire for independence. Marcus is more nervous and content to spend his time in the family’s basement, but his parents want him to learn to take care of himself. And, yes, Evelyn having a baby might seem like a ridiculous decision, but it’s a deliberate one. Blunt (exceptional as ever) beautifully communicates her longing to bring new life into the world with little more than a spoken word or two.

Basically, the child-rearing metaphor is a rich idea around which to build a horror film (and at 90 minutes, A Quiet Place doesn’t overstay its welcome). There are many logical holes to be poked in the specifics of this monster-filled world, which is why Krasinski keeps his cameras so trained on the performers. Unsurprisingly, the film’s frightening moments are often too focused on jump scares—loud sounds from off-screen, shrieking creatures, or even a clang on the movie’s (relatively minimalistic) score. But that’s hard to avoid in a tale filled with long stretches of absolute silence. A Quiet Place is an undoubtedly taxing affair for the nerves; fortunately, it’s also a deeply affecting one.

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