A Quiet Place is not a bad little film. In the context of directorial debuts, it’s actually pretty good. But is it a tour de force, as some critics have proclaimed? Hell, no. Your mileage may vary, of course, and your receptivity to silent films will be a good indication of how you’ll feel about this one, but it’s a promising start from actor/director John Krasinski that falls short in some predictable ways. Jordan Peele’s transition to the director’s chair with Get Out, a similarly stripped-down horror flick that debuted in early spring last year, was a much stronger effort — don’t expect any Oscar love for A Quiet Place — but if this film is any indication of Krasinski’s directing chops, there may be more to him than playing the affable nice guy in romantic comedies.
The film’s central conceit — that humanity has been decimated by blind monsters that hunt people using sound, and therefore everyone must keep silent to stay alive — is a pretty compelling gimmick that would’ve made a great student thesis short. At 90 minutes, the silent treatment can grate on the nerves to a significant extent, but the movie doesn’t exactly overstay its welcome. Krasinski is prudent enough to use his few instances of diegetic sound to great effect, and his premise is legitimately unsettling.
The problem here is that A Quiet Place essentially functions like a silent film without intertitles, leaving its leads — Krasinski, his wife, Emily Blunt, and deaf child actor Millicent Simmonds — to carry the narrative using little more than pantomime. It’s ambitious, and they mostly pull it off. The entire film is effectively just a showcase for Krasinski and Blunt, talented thespians who manage to do something pretty special with scant material. But the issues with this film start at the script level, and no amount of acting acumen can cover egregious plot holes and lack of character development.
Since there’s practically no dialogue, exposition is delivered either visually or through subtitled sign language. And while visual storytelling is always something I prize highly, it does require that the story being told makes sense. Why, for example, is this family ignoring admonitions to seek shelter underground when they have a perfectly good cellar to operate out of? Why would Blunt’s and Krasinski’s characters even remotely consider having another child in this environment, given the danger that decision incurs for the rest of their family? How are they farming and harvesting what appears to be acres of corn in perfectly manicured rows without the benefit of any modern farming equipment? The unanswered and ill-considered questions go on and on — and the flaccid plot twist that defines the film’s climax harkens back to M. Night Shyamalan’s deeply regrettable Signs, a comparison I wouldn’t wish on any first-time feature director.
Narrative quibbles aside, A Quiet Place is a genuinely creepy piece of low-budget horror, and while Krasinski shows far too much of his monsters and generally seems to still be searching for his style, it’s a promising debut. If the box-office success of this movie helps to continue the trend of unique and compelling genre work that seems to be taking root in Hollywood, that will leave A Quiet Place in a good place from my perspective. Rated PG-13 for terror and some bloody images. Now Playing at AMC Classic River Hills 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.