In a world where gimmicks can sink or swim a horror movie, A Quiet Place has a pretty interesting hook: a post-apocalyptic world populated by mysterious monsters that hunt exclusively by sound. The movie focuses on a family who, over a year into the attack (invasion? outbreak?) have adapted their lives to function in near total silence and everything that entails: carefully soundproofed rooms, sand-lined walkways to pad the footsteps of their bare feet as they move, painstakingly rigged home-brew silent alarm systems -- you name it.
It's a pretty bold gambit, all told, and one that could easily turn into a massive chore -- but thankfully A Quiet Place manages to weaponize its strict set of rules in (almost) all the right ways. It's a strange but interesting take on the tried-and-true zombie apocalypse survivor story formula, and one that manages to make some valiant reaches and clever turns, even within its strict, self-imposed restrictions.
Ostensibly, A Quiet Place is a parental drama. It focuses on a pregnant mother (Emily Blunt) and father (John Krasinski , who also directed and co-wrote the film) trying to make things work for their two young children (Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmons) in a very homesteader-flavored slice of life at the end of the world. They speak almost entirely in sign language and live their day-to-day lives by way of a handful of incredibly inventive soundless adaptations -- no silverware or plates, they eat with their hands and lettuce leaves; no washer or dryer, they handle their laundry one piece at a time slowly and by hand. The kids play board games to pass the time, but with the pieces all replaced by felt or wool squares to muffle the noise.
It's all very clever and restrained in a way that gives the movie a palpable, roiling pressure. The family dynamic is the number one source of drama and anxiety, even with the looming and omnipresent threat of the monsters lurking just over the horizon. There's bad blood between the father and the daughter, the son is caught in the middle and the mother is forced to play mediator. The effect is a simmering, slow-burning tension that works beautifully with the soundless gimmick -- how do you argue with your parents when you can't yell? How do you discipline your children when you can't speak?
Add to that the near complete lack of actual verbal exposition -- almost all worldbuilding and explanation are left up for audience members to put together themselves by visual clues -- and A Quiet Place starts to feel refreshingly smart and confident in its execution, a rarity in a genre steeped in over the top melodrama and ooey-gooey mythologizing.
The unfortunate flip side in that drama and minimalism is a frustrating lack of narrative stakes. At its worst, A Quiet Place feels like a series of loosely connected vignettes where the characters are forced to live through the worst days of their lives in 15-minute bursts. Sure, it's prime material for a relentless, teeth-clenching scarefest, but when you unclamp your hands from the edge of your seat and take a breath, the logic of the thing starts to break down. Under scrutiny, it's easy to realize that the family doesn't really have any clear motivation beyond "survive one really awful day," which feels unfortunately thin given all the hooks and potential turns the story could make use of in that world.
Of course to be clear, surviving one really awful day does enough to keep the movie fun and horrifically engaging, but also means that this is less of a Get Out and more of a Signs (minus, of course, the traditional Shyamalan twist.) It might be trying to reach for a message about parenthood and what it means to protect your children, but it never really gets there -- especially since the overall logic behind someone consciously, intentionally getting pregnant in a post-apocalyptic world where making sound gets you killed is really calls into question both a person's overall intentions and general parenting skills in the first place.
At the end of the day, A Quiet Place is going to have you entertained (and probably pretty anxious) for 90 minutes. It's loaded with enough jump scares and audio stingers to keep a packed theater yelping and laughing at themselves from start to finish and a pretty cool monster design that gets a nice spotlight more than once to top it all off. It doesn't overstay its welcome and it feels comfortable with the amount of horror it's able to pack in under its relatively gore-free PG-13 rating.
If you're a horror aficionado bored with the typical trope-filled survivalist fair or a monster movie fan on the hunt for a new thrill, A Quiet Place isn't going to disappoint.
A Quiet Place is in theaters on Friday, April 6.