Movie review: ‘A Quiet Place’ is simple, elegant and terrifying

A Quiet Place; 90 min; Rated PG-13
By Chris Honoré
for Revels

“A Quiet Place” is almost totally without dialogue, but it still conveys a sense of dread more loudly than the familiar horror trope so common with this genre. It is a film of faces, close-ups, capturing a spectrum of deep familial affection to unequivocal terror. It is brilliant in its premise — simple and elegant.
The opening scene tells us it is DAY 89. Immediately, it is evident that something terrible has taken place, an apocalypse of a kind. The what, and how is unclear. The place is a small, bucolic town in upstate New York. A family (three children and their mother and father) is scavenging the pillaged shelves of a grocery/drug store searching for supplies and medicine. They walk slowly, carefully, each is barefooted, no one speaks or makes a sound. They speak to one another not in hushed whispers but in sign language.
Within minutes, the tension that will haunt the film throughout is palpable. What is the source of their fear? When they leave the store, they walk, inexplicably, on a ribbon of sand that cushions their footsteps. The parents, Lee and Evelyn Abbott (John Krasinski and Emily Blunt), are hyper-vigilant, pausing to listen. Whatever is out there represents an existential threat in the extreme; only the audience is not given even a hint of what it might be. Not until there is a moment that is completely unexpected, involving only a flash of movement, resulting in the couple’s youngest being taken. Lee’s face is twisted in anguish as he runs toward his son, realizing he is too late to save him.
What was a blindingly quick reveal is followed by the screen informing us that more than 400 days have passed, and we see a Victorian farmhouse that has been turned into a survivalist island. It is inviting, cozy even, surrounded by crops, powered by a generator, a necklace of lights at night are strung from the house to the outbuildings. A wide path of sand leads to the front porch. Thus far, by what we see, we’re told that this family has endured. Actually, they have thrived, for we also notice that Evelyn is pregnant. In the basement, in Lee’s gear-laden workshop, are electronics and multiple screens monitoring the exterior. On one wall are newspapers with headlines warning people to avoid all sound. There’s a shortwave radio on a workbench.
The house is filled with light, for apparently whatever “they” are, they cannot see, only hear, even the faintest crunch of a dried leaf beneath a carelessly placed foot.
A frequent gesture, universal in its understanding, is an index finger placed in front of the lips, conveying most often to the children that above all, in that moment, silence is their only defense. Remain still, hushed, wait, listen, their very lives depend on it. Even when the family spends an evening playing Monopoly, the pips are covered with material.
I’m hesitant to continue to reveal anything more than what is evident in the first act. This is a film that must be seen fresh. To know any more would diminish what are emotions of trepidation and uncertainty, wrapped in a plot that grows and unravels silently, step-by-step, so to speak.
All of this film is completely authentic and believable — though a certain suspension of disbelief is required. The family is impossible not to care about. We wish above all that no harm will come to them; it’s an investment in the characters that is impossible not to make.
“A Quiet Place” as a title that seems benign. It isn’t. As a film, it is a harrowing allegory. What is out there is, until finally it isn’t, vague and predatory and beyond comprehension.
In other words, Krasinski, along with his co-writers, Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, handle all aspects of this very excellent film with artistry and stylized finesse, implicitly understanding that less can be more when dealing with imagination.

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