'A Quiet Place'
In so many horror movies, light is your enemy. Accidentally flick a switch or struggle to turn your flashlight off and you're bound to get eaten by so many monsters and aliens.
A Quiet Place flips that on its head. Lee Abbott (John Krasinski) and his kids swing their flashlights around with abandon. An illuminated string of bright red bulbs outside their farm means danger. Light goes from a blessing-turned-curse to irrelevant; these particular creatures will kill you in daytime or night. Sound, not light, is the danger here; that simple swap is enough to guarantee Krasinski's movie a place in the modern horror pantheon.
Fortunately, the rest of the conceit is unique as well: blind extraterrestrials have invaded Earth and essentially ended civilization as we know it. Small groups of people survive, but in total silence; the aliens have super-sensitive hearing and come running at any big noise. The Abbott family—also including the pregnant Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and children Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe)—rarely speak out loud, instead using sign language to communicate without being consumed. Regan, who is deaf, also blames herself for an alien-related tragedy that haunts her familial relations.
That's about it. Because the characters don't speak, there's very little dialogue; this feels both like a marketing ploy and a massive hurdle for a filmmaker to clear, but the tight-knit cast never struggles. Real-life marrieds Krasinski and Blunt have wordless chemistry to spare; meanwhile, Simmonds and Jude never try to ham it up or get too wide-eyed. Asking a kid to emote sans words seems difficult, but you wouldn't know it from watching these two.
Krasinski—also the writer/director—and fellow screenwriters Bryan Woods and Scott Beck make the initial rules of their world as basic as can be. There are a finite amount of aliens, but if you make a noise out in the open, see ya later. If you're drowned out by a larger sound, however, yell as loud as you like. This makes all the little slip-ups feel like major disasters, and Krasinski takes care to mix up his reasons for inadvertent alien summoning.
Yet somewhere around the halfway point, they go big. The rules never change, but our filmmaker seems to lose interest in slowly cranking the tension to unbearable heights. Instead, there are countless aliens—and contrived scenarios to draw them out—at every turn. Once-quiet scares turn into bombastic moments; the alien 'weakness' is stumbled upon early and often; an old man who may have wandered over from a Tim & Eric sketch almost dares the audience to laugh as he makes faces and screams.
As such, logic issues start to abound. We never receive background as to the Abbotts or the world itself, which is a blessing when it comes to economic storytelling and a curse once you start including backup plans, defensive distractions, and other twists and turns that prompt questions like how, why, and where. If you're the kind of person who yells at the screen when characters make poor choices, seeing A Quiet Place in theaters may not be for you. What makes streamlined sci-fi or horror stories work is not testing the boundaries of your world; when Krasinski and company abandon restraint and make every situation as precarious as possible, it lessens what was once engrossing. As impressive and frightening as the aliens were, keeping them a little more hidden would've gone a long way.
That said, Krasinski likely isn't trying to create high art. The final shot, in particular, makes you pause and wonder what kind of movie this actually was. The name "Michael Bay" in the credits doesn't help either. For a director on his second feature, the former The Office star does a bang-up job of nailing all the major moments. It's ambitious to create any movie with a dozen or so lines of dialogue, yet A Quiet Place never ceases to be engaging. A handful of little things just keep it from transcending horror to be an actual Good Film.
But must we hold it to that standard? If a horror movie narrowly misses the Get Out-esque leap to "high art," can we just happily consider it a very solid genre film? Because for all its flaws, for all its dumb missteps after crafting such a sharp, simple universe for the first 45 minutes, A Quiet Place is a near-perfect theater experience. You might walk out nitpicking its imperfections; your heart might be too in your throat to talk. But you won't be disappointed with how you spent the last hour and a half; that's a modest goal for many movies, but one Krasinski should take pride in achieving.