Don't look now, but we're enjoying a new golden age of horror. Not since the 1970s and the revolutionary work of David Cronenberg, Roman Polanski, Brian De Palma and Nicolas Roeg has the genre experienced a comparable infusion of riches. The past four years alone have brought creative creep-outs like It Follows, The Babadook, Don't Breathe, Get Out and It Comes at Night. And now A Quiet Place.
Reviewing Trey Edward Shults' It Comes at Night last year, I wrote, "I don't believe I've seen a film as quietly unsettling." Of John Krasinski's third directorial feature, I can honestly say I don't believe I've seen one as unsettlingly quiet. A marvel of virtuoso acting, writing, editing and, above all, sound design, the movie offers a suspenseful, dread-drenched journey into an alien world that just happens to be our own on mute.
Krasinski, who cowrote the script with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, stars as Lee Abbott, a father of three whom we first meet on a supply run with his family. His wife, Evelyn, is played by Emily Blunt (Krasinski's wife in real life). Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds deliver deft, sensitive performances as a young son and deaf daughter. Simmonds is a gifted deaf actress, as she demonstrated in last year's Wonderstruck. Cade Woodward, in the role of the eldest child, may well be gifted, too. He makes his exit too early for us to know for sure.
All we do know, courtesy of a title card, is that it's "Day 89" of a postapocalyptic chapter in history. The family is barefoot, moves with caution and speaks only in sign language, which it no doubt learned because of the daughter's condition but now uses to remain undetected by otherworldly visitors.
These deadly whatever-they-ares can't see but have extraordinarily acute auditory powers. For what's left of the human race, survival equals silence. This becomes clear when Woodward's character flicks on a noisy toy and is snatched in a flash by a jagged, bloodthirsty blur.
The movie then fast-forwards a year or so. Its second act affords us a fascinatingly imagined portrait of life under such conditions. The Abbotts live in an old farmhouse in the woods, play Monopoly with padded pieces and keep watch via security cameras in a basement command center. Now and then, far-flung neighbors light bonfires to commune.
The couple is determined to survive, even thrive, against all odds. The fact that Evelyn is nine months pregnant underscores that aim. It also adds another ticking time bomb to the story's structure. However well these parents have planned, we never doubt this will prove to be a catastrophic case of unsafe sex.
Evelyn's water and all hell break loose at the worst possible moment, and the subsequent sequence ranks with movie history's most taut, tense and nerve shattering. Lee and the kids aren't in the house. A number of home invaders suddenly are. In the moments that follow, we realize this is, at its heart, a film about female empowerment, a parable custom-made for the present cultural moment.
The closer we get to the end, the more Evelyn and her daughter evoke Ripley and Newt kicking Alien ass, Krasinski's blind beasts being direct design descendants of H.R. Giger's xenomorphs. In space, no one can hear you scream. In A Quiet Place, the reverse is true. The slightest sound might as well be a thermonuclear explosion. It's a clever premise brilliantly realized, and never less than a big-screen blast.