"A Quiet Place" starts in the silence of an abandoned and looted supermarket. The near-inaudible patter of bare feet finally breaks the silence.
We're introduced to the Abbott Family -- parents Lee and Evelyn (played by real-life couple John Krasinski and Emily Blunt), their deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and sons Marcus and Beau (Noah Jupe and Cade Woodward, respectively).
Earth has been invaded by alien creatures that hunt by sound. Even the slightest whisper attracts them. The family communicates through sign language, walks with bare feet on sand paths and moves slowly so as not to make any noise. Their lives depend on it.
This opening scene, and the movie that follows, absolutely floored me. "A Quiet Place" establishes the stakes right away, treats us like we're smart with that hands-off exposition, allowing us to deduce what's happening on our own.
The movie shows and never tells. We see news clippings and smaller details about the world around the Abbotts, but never get lost in world-building. "A Quiet Place" knows it's not about a new sci-fi dystopia; it's about a family.
The award-worthy performances play an important part in this. The actors' eyes and faces do all the work normally reserved for dialogue. Krasinski, in particular, delivers a crushing performance. His eyes convey strength and compassion, but with a clear sadness and fatigue behind them.
What's even more remarkable are the differences between each character's signing style. Krasinski uses short, pointed signage, conveying his survivalist mindset. Blunt's style is more expressive, relying on slower and more fluid signage. She even throws in an eye roll to add some personality to an unfeeling world. Simmonds, who's actually deaf, uses a powerful style, illustrating her angst and anxiety, especially in scenes with Krasinski.
Outside the characters, the movie also succeeds from a technical standpoint. This is the third movie Krasinski has directed, and easily his best. He builds tension and releases it with scares that have one major difference from average horror films -- they make sense.
I'm not big on horror. The majority of modern horror relies on cheap jump scares without any tension. "A Quiet Place" is much more in the vein of "It Follows" or "Get Out," in that scares burn slowly and intensely. I was on edge for nearly the entire movie, fidgeting in my seat as I tried to anticipate the next scare.
A prime example of this is a scene that's partially appeared in the trailers. Evelyn goes into labor while Lee and Marcus are out fishing. Not only are we anticipating her screaming from the pain, but in an earlier scene, a nail on the basement stairs had been bent upward. She steps on it, of course, and ends up dropping a family picture in the process.
The sound attracts one of the creatures. The next five to 10 minutes cut between Evelyn trying to stay quiet and Lee racing back to help his wife. Close call after close call leads to the creature being drawn away by a firework that Marcus sets off. We don't get a reprieve, though, as Lee searches the house for Evelyn and finds the tub where she'd been hiding empty.
In addition to the horrifying tension, the creatures hunting the family are frightening. The closest physical comparison I can come up with is a four-legged spider-human hybrid with no eyes. Their heads are basically armored ears. Several plates of armor open and close, exposing soft, pink membranes where the ear holes are.
The way Krasinski utilizes these creatures reminds me of how Steven Spielberg used the shark in "Jaws," and how Ridley Scott used the Xenomorph in "Alien." The creatures are rarely seen, and that makes them scarier. You never know when someone might accidentally make a sound and cause them to appear.
"A Quiet Place" is easily the best film at this point in the year. Krasinski's direction, the character-driven story, powerful performances and palpable tension come together to make one of the best thrillers in a long time.