The best way to describe John Krasinski’s third directorial project, A Quiet Place, is to call it a horror film with plenty of heart.
The movie, which made its world premiere on SXSW’s opening night, follows a family as they struggle to stay alive in a post-apocalyptic world – a basic and overused plot but one that’s injected with some soul thanks to the director’s focus on character building over sci-fi action. Sure, there are monsters that live out in the woods, ones with incredibly heightened hearing that cause Krasinski, his on-screen (and off-screen) wife Emily Blunt, and their children played by Millicent Simmons and Noah Jupe to live in virtual silence in order to protect themselves. But the jump-out-of-your-seat moments are balanced with a heart-warming story that has a lot to say about the bonds of family and the pressures of parenthood.
When we first meet Krasinski’s familial brood, they’ve already been living in this new and scary world.Their farmhouse is rigged with a lighting system that alerts them to danger; they sprinkle sand on the road into town so the crushing of leaves and stone doesn’t alert the monsters to their presence; they mark wood floors that creak in the house in order to avoid making a sound; and they play monopoly with knitted place-fillers. We learn the monsters arrived, seemingly out of nowhere and there’s no known way of killing them so the family’s left to speak in sign language and worry about the impending arrival of a new member (babyproofing takes on a whole new meaning here). There are no voice-over narratives watering things down for the audience, we’re just quietly welcomed into this world, which makes it feel real, despite the more fantastical elements.
And because this is really a family drama at heart, we get to spend time with these characters, relating both to the parents, who worry about the kind of world their children are growing up in, and the kids, who are afraid of disappointing them. Though best known for his 9-season run as Jim Halpert on the NBC sitcom The Office, Krasinski, as a director, often explores familial relationships. His two previous films explored the aftermath of breakups and the bonds of family when trauma unfolds, but he’s done his best work with A Quiet Place, effectively getting out of the way so that his talented cast can dig into the rich material without being hampered down by too many visual effects or a plot stifled by a reliance on thrilling, action-heavy moments. He plays the role of a father filled with regret and worry for his children with equal ability as does Blunt, who shines as a mother willing to risk everything to guarantee a future for her family. The two can communicate so much through just a look, a nod, a brush of the arm, and it’s their bond that moves the story forward. The setting may be otherworldly, but their commitment to each other, their love for their children, and their hope for a better world to raise them in keeps the audience engaged until the end.
But the real star of this film is Simmons who plays a young teen with a hearing disability that emerges as the heroine of the film. Her character lives through a fully-fleshed out arc and Simmons plays her beautifully, creating a palpable tension with Krasinski on-screen as her facial expressions belie an undue sense of guilt, frustration, and a lack of faith in her abilities. Her yearning to break free from the life she lives ultimately stirs her to protect those she loves.
Like the character she plays, Simmons is also partially deaf and communicates through sign language. After a screening of the film, the cast, including Krasinski, Blunt, Jupe, and Simmons shared what it was like shooting the movie, revealing that everyone, including the crew, learned sign language to better communicate with Simmons on set. That camaraderie is felt on-screen as the troubled relationship between Krasinski’s character and Simmons’ plays out and it’s refreshing to know that this on-screen family shared a strong bond in front of and behind the camera.
If you can get past words like “horror” and “thriller” and the real possibility that you’ll jump out of your seat while watching this thing, you’ll be treated to a surprisingly nuanced look at the meaning of family and the limitless love between parents and their children.