If T.S. Eliot turned up at the Abbott household and trotted out that old line about the end of the world coming not with a bang, but a whimper, the family would shush him and point out that whimpers and whispers are the only way humanity will survive.
Although best known as the pleasantly acerbic Jim in The Office (and increasingly for action-packed events like his upcoming Jack Ryan series for Amazon), Krasinski is no stranger or slouch behind the camera. So after 2016's morbidly comedic homecoming The Hollars, his first stab at horror is, as it is to be expected, a family-centric piece. The Abbotts are a regular nuclear family caught in impossible circumstances: Something is in the woods, and the streets, and everywhere; a mysterious something that hones in on the slightest sound, strikes like lightning, and slaughters without mercy.
It's not a new conceit: In fact, the silent menace is a staple of the home invasion movie, from Wait Until Dark to Don't Breathe. But scaling it out to a farm in upstate New York, where the beasts roam free by day or night, adds a new layer of fear and opportunity. The family members have at least marginal control over their environment, and have developed innovative survival tools, like sand paths that muffle every shuffling step. The Abbotts have another advantage: Evelyn and Lee (real-life couple Blunt and Krasinski) know American Sign Language because their daughter Regan (Simmonds) is profoundly deaf. It's a rare break in this silent, doomed world that has allowed them to create a safe environment – free of creaking floors, snapping branches, or even heavy footsteps – that allows them to survive.
In many ways, A Quiet Place is the film that many expected the tragic, tender, underrated, and horribly misadvertised It Comes at Night to be. That's no slight on either film, but A Quiet Place is simply a more multiplex-friendly take on the same theme of the emotional toll of the apocalypse. Trey Edward Shults clothed his story of a family at the end of the world in enigma; by contrast, if Krasinski shows you a gun in the first act, you can be damn sure that someone is getting shot in the third. So every incremental turn of the screw – Regan's inability to hear threats (a performance given additional depth by Simmonds' own deafness), or Evelyn's pregnancy, or middle-child Marcus (Jupe) scarcely holding his own fears in check – has meaning.
Not that he lacks artistry. When he delivers on tension, it's not a jump scare, but a jarring sense of inevitability (another kinship to Shults' work). Every time there is a sound above a whisper, there is a payoff, and how Krasinski navigates between those two events is never less than enthralling – and, yes, tragic. Moreover, knowing that Krasinski does not believe in red herrings means that every detail gets a payoff. In a genre that has often been plagued by nudge-nudge, wink-wink storytelling, the simple honesty of a family facing impossible odds and eking through is truly chilling.
Read "Visiting a Quiet Place," April 13, 2018, for an interview with John Krasinski and Emily Blunt.
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