SXSW 2018 Review: A QUIET PLACE Is A Tense, Terrifying Creature Feature

John Krasinski delivers a potential genre all-timer.

John Krasinski knows what it feels like to live in fear. At least, that's what the director would want you to believe with his horror film A Quiet Place. An aura of dread hangs over every frame of this post-apocalyptic nightmare, following a family (headed by Krasinski and his real-life better half, Emily Blunt) who exist in complete silence, choosing to communicate only via America Sign Language. Through the lens of cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen (The Hunt), every inch of their Midwest farm is captured with a honey-tinged sadness, painting portraits of deadly American badlands - cornfields and forests hiding preying-mantis-looking mutants, who hunt solely via sound. It's an aura of incessant skittishness, mixed with irrepressible melancholy, as this tribe has suffered a loss to these monsters’ talons that they’re still attempting to recover from.

We open in media res: day 89 living and working in this gorgeous Hellscape quickly turns to day 439, as the end of all things came thanks to this meat-eating mob. The papers scream - in a cartoonishly sensationalist tone reminiscent of George A. Romeo's Day of the Dead"Angels Of Death!" Another headline taped to the wall of the family’s communications station basement (which is little more than closed-circuit TVs and a shortwave radio) declares: "They Kill By Sound!" These parents’ two surviving kids - a deaf daughter (Wonderstruck's Millicent Simmonds) and a generally terrified little boy (Noah Jupe) - struggle with growing up under the constant threat of death every single day. For there are ears in every hill, and should they stray off the sand-padded paths they walk on barefoot during journeys to the local pharmacy - their feet snapping small sticks or rustling some dead leaves - these beings will come down and feed on their flesh. 

Horrifying boogeymen lurk around every corner of the expansive homestead these folks have still managed to cultivate, and Blunt’s mother has another bun in the oven. Hell may have come to Earth, but that doesn't mean life simply stopped because of these hideous monsters’ presence. That's what's so remarkable about A Quiet Place: it zeroes in on the minutiae of carrying on while a bloodthirsty regime has moved in and may slaughter your family in the middle of the night. No explanation is ever truly given for the appearance of the murderous extraterrestrials. This is just the way things are now. But we come to care about these people because they still love each other dearly, becoming the post-holocaust representation for the idyllic nuclear family. They’re all that’s left, and Krasinski milks their every interaction – from tiny squabbles to late night dances with a shared headphone to keep the beat – for as much connection as humanly possible.

The numerous beautifully frightening tableaus and silent exchanges of hands and mouthed words seamlessly amalgamate into an almost pure cinema experimental streak (at least when making movies at this studio level), combined with a populist approach to delivering a roller coaster ride at the theater. In short: though the movie is subtitled, the jump scares are plentiful (not to mention incredibly well executed) with a rumbling sound design that makes you clutch your armrest in anticipation. Bryan Woods and Scott Beck (with a hand from Krasinski) built a structure with their screenplay that alternates between character and set piece-driven, shifting between both with ease. The entire package is a remarkable gift of faux-Spielbergian craft, geared toward eliciting nervous laughter when the theater isn't filled with shocked gasps (as A Quiet Place pushes the very limits of its PG-13 rating). Plus, Krasinski's picture sports some of the most grotesquely inspired creature design we've seen in ages. 

If there's a small crack in this brutally lovely surface, its Krasinski’s over-reliance on Marco Beltrami's imposing score. A hodgepodge of drones, strings, and bombastic blasts of classy Halloween music, Beltrami lends every scene a rather potent emotional punch. In fairness, you don't blame the TV star turned filmmaker for maybe telegraphing some of the emotional beats he wanted to hit. It's hard to hold such histrionics against a movie that's so brazenly driven by an impressively bold, commercially-minded vision. Krasinski's molded a horror movie that isn't afraid of being a total genre exercise, yet still recognizes that the mode he’s operating in doesn't mean you can't simultaneously make thrilling mainstream art. 

It's such a wonderful sensation when a movie surprises the ever-loving shit out of you, and A Quiet Place does just that. It's an amazing audience experience, that also feels incredibly personal to its central stars. For all the monster movie madness, cheap thrills and wonderful filmic texture, this is still very much a motion picture about the terrors of parenthood, and how the best mothers and fathers would do anything to keep their kids safe. Every moment of desire and self-doubt is conveyed with crystal clarity, thanks to Blunt and Krasinski's marvelously expressive faces. A Quiet Place lets us become so intimate with this unit that we laugh, cry, scream, and shout along with them at every perilous turn, hoping to God they make it out of this impossible situation alive. By the time the movie's brilliant final shot arrives, we're not ready to leave the wasteland, despite all the hardships we've just endured. Now, it's time to fight back, so grab the shotgun and your hearing aid. Hunting season has arrived, and there better be a sequel.