If the Abbott’s, the unwavering family at the heart of John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place”, were to tend to Elio’s question—is it better to speak or die?—the answer would be a crisp neither, communicated through violent but ever so cautious flicks of the wrist. Speaking or dying is neither a good option for mama and papa Abbott (played by Krasinski and his real-life partner, Emily Blunt), for unseeing but all-hearing extraterrestrials lurk in the dark, ready and able and determined to decimate any breathing thing that makes a sound. But trouble lives in mama Abbott’s belly; her water is due to break any time now, and beyond the slosh of bodily fluids, what’s most concerning is the baby, who is absolutely going to wail postpartum.
The metaphor is not lost in the film’s ineffable but intriguing premise. Parenthood puts eggshells beneath everyone’s footsteps, a lesson of which horror films, from Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” to Sean Byrne’s “The Devil’s Candy”, had been our teachers. That the Abbotts have to endure a pitch-quiet withering wasteland of a world where the littlest sound is an absolution of one’s peril amplifies the fever pitch of its terrors and stifles harder than any anxiety-inducing cabin in the woods.
Like its genre progenitors, “A Quiet Place” shatters the familiar idyll of the domestic unit, but does so with sheer skill and novelty. Krasinski has good fun in turning mundane familial activities into frightful life-threatening little games of “will it make a sound?”; moments as listless as playing board games erupt into a descent into deep distress. In the film’s central set piece, mama Abbott wheezes her way through the delivery of her child, muffling her grunts by keeping them in-sync with a nearby creature’s growls. Through the torture, Emily Blunt does something distinctly impressive in her performance, painting in her facial expressions a frenzied mix of fear, resignation, and even defiant optimism.
At some point in the film, this becomes Krasinski’s pitch. That beyond a toothy, supremely watchable sci-fi thriller, you’re also watching an ode to the defiance of parenthood, the lengths parents will go through in order to protect their children. And it works. “Who are we if we can’t protect them,” poses mama Abbott in a painful, wistful voice. Papa Abbott, whom Krasinski portrays with nary the jovial sense with which Jim flirts with Pam in “The Office”, gazes at his wife longingly, letting out an exhaustive “I promise”. Such moments lend the film’s atmosphere a counter-palette of tenderness against the inherent bleakness of its setting, thanks in large part to the screenplay, co-written by Krasinski, Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, and its generosity in sharing such faint but powerful moments as mama and papa Abbott dancing to Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon”.
These extend to the young Abbotts, who harbor internal crises of their own. Played ably by Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds—breakout phenom in Todd Haynes’ heart-rending “Wonderstruck”—they’re displaced in a cautious existence that’s still very much riddled with anger, guilt, and disconnect. They are folded quite nicely into an engaging dynamic that would have benefited a whole lot with some context into who the Abbotts were pre-apocalypse. This is a minor quibble against the effect Krasinski ultimately achieves, however. Like a bolt in the blue, “A Quiet Place”, strikes a powerful chord as a bracing tale of parenthood and family, and like its scariest parts, comes in unflinching, thunderous little jolts of electricity.
A Quiet Place
2018 / Thriller, Drama / US
Direction: John Krasinski Screenplay: John Krasinski, Bryan Woods, Scott Beck Cast: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe
In John Krasinski’s new film, the Abbots, mourning the loss of their youngest and now a family of just four, must navigate their lives in silence after mysterious creatures that hunt by sound threaten their survival.