It’s taken a while to process my thoughts about A Quiet Place (2018), the new horror sensation directed and co-written by The Office’s John Krasinski. Its critical buzz is slightly over-inflated, perhaps, but ultimately its success is more than deserved, and it will surely appeal to fans of the genre and beyond. The film follows the efforts of the Abbott family—mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt), father Lee (Krasinski), daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), and son Marcus (Noah Jupe)—to survive in a world newly colonized by aliens that hunt by sound. As a result, what’s left of humanity lives a precarious, silent existence so as not to attract the vicious creatures’ attention. By virtue of Regan’s deafness, the Abbotts are fluent in sign language, which gives them a distinct advantage. Even so, circumstances conspire to bring the alien menace down on their quiet farm, forcing them into a desperate fight for survival.
A Quiet Place has many core strengths, perhaps chief among them the performance of Emily Blunt, who kills it in a challenging, emotional role. Millicent Simmonds, who like her character is deaf, is also remarkable, while Krasinski proves as adept in a dramatic role as he is in comedy. There’s cleverness and subtlety to the film’s execution, which keeps the threats just offscreen until just the right moments. Most of all, I loved loved loved the intelligent visual storytelling, especially early on as the stage is being set. The early, suspenseful build-up of worldbuilding information paints a gripping picture of the scenario, even as it delivers a surprising amount of character detail about the Abbotts that economically invests you in their plight.
Still, for me A Quiet Place lacks a certain something, and not just dialogue. For one thing, smartly as the world is visually built, there’s a distinct lack of rigor to the “rules” for living in a world where making noise can be deadly. Had the film’s science fictional depth or messaging subtext been more elaborate, that would have been easy to forgive, but for me it didn’t quite go far enough on either score. From a thematic standpoint, A Quiet Place relies on a rather conventional family dynamic as its emotional glue; well done as it was, it didn’t speak to me, which probably says more about me than the movie. None of this is to say the film doesn’t succeed in what it’s attempting to do. In fact, it impressively hits all the targets. But there’s a robust concept, here, that could have worked on more layers and levels. It doesn’t explore them, however, which for me might have elevated it from a very good horror film to an exceptional one.