Now here's a modern cinematic success story. John Krasinski, best known to many as lovelorn Jim in the The Office (US version), reworked the screenplay for A Quiet Place, before directing and starring in it alongside his wife Emily Blunt. A Quiet Place is now being hailed as one of the most innovative horror-thrillers in years, and a damn fine piece of film-making to boot. Having seen it, I'm doing some of the hailing. (Only really, really quietly.)
This movie's genius is in the simplicity of its central idea. The Abbotts are a family fighting to survive in the rural US, Earth having been invaded/infested by alien predators attracted purely by sound. Maintaining a state of utter quiet is now the only way to remain alive; the family's routines are based around minimising noise in every way they can. The fact that the daughter is hearing-impaired means that they already have a useful communicative skill set, one that has helped sustain them so far. From moment to moment, however, any sharp noise could result in the end for them all.
Any film concept as pure as this one stands or falls on how convincingly it's developed. The Abbotts have rigorously sound-proofed their lives; how cleverly is conveyed throughout the near wordless screenplay. The rules by which they live out their fraught lives are deftly captured in every shot. The opening sequence neatly establishes both the care they take and the stakes, so that everything from that point on is an incremental accumulation of tension. It's a perfect illustration of Alfred Hitchcock's distinction between surprise and suspense. We don't simply jump in our seats at the unexpected - we're primed along with the characters for what might happen any second. Frankly it's exhausting.
Appropriately, the film's soundscape is remarkable. Incidental music is used sparingly, while silence is almost a character in itself. The result is that all ambient sound, whether natural or threatening, becomes significant; a movie where quiet is essential becomes all about noise. Its one use of an existing music track is uniquely, achingly moving. Visually it's also magnificent. Shot in upstate New York, the rustic setting provides an idyllic counterpoint to the unfolding terror. (It's quite an experience to appreciate all those fall colours while your guts are knotted.)
The plot incorporates recognisable science-fiction and horror tropes as it goes on, inevitably so. But by then what has been established is so potent and so compelling that everything works. These are characters about whom you care and for whom you fear, in a situation you have never before imagined. It's one you really should experience, though, preferably in a packed screening.
Gut Reaction: A heightened state of awareness, where so much as a leaf-crunch made me start. (I have never experienced such avid silence in a cinema, nor been more reluctant to eat my crisps.)
Where Are the Women?: Blunt and young Simmonds ace it as mother and daughter.
Ed's Verdict: 8.5/10. A brilliant horror-thriller idea, economically conveyed and sustained to the end for maximum effect. Thumbs up (hand-clapping is way too loud) for all involved.