The first time that Emily Blunt sat down to see her latest film A Quiet Place (2018), she said to her co-star and director John Krasinski, "wow, you've made a silent film," and in many ways that is exactly what he's done. Interestingly though, this man in question is not only Blunt's husband as well as her director, but he's also making one of his first appearances behind the camera here with a surprisingly bold, near-silent approach to horror.
At the same time however, it could be argued that sound is one of this film's main characters, as we follow a family's battle for survival in a dystopian world where terrifying creatures almost instantly find and kill anyone who makes a sound. This means that those alive have to go to pretty extreme lengths to make their everyday activities silent - an undertaking that would seemingly be difficult even for your average monk, as the central family practice walking barefoot on paths of sand, moving to a barn that's less creaky than their house, and eating soft food with their hands that's served on beds of large leaves.
If this sounds like the ultimate zen experience about reconnecting with nature though, it really isn't, as the result is unsurprisingly an excruciating watch where even the quietest step and breath is felt pushing you ever closer to the edge of your seat. It's also a thoroughly bleak premise as the world has largely been stripped of humans and all of the joys that come with them. However, there are plenty of horror films with a frighteningly intense idea behind them, and the real test is always how they manage to keep you engaged for their entirety.
In the case of A Quiet Place (2018), that's an especially difficult task when there's so little dialogue for over an hour and a half, but what really keeps you hooked here is the characters, as this is more so a film centered around family than it is anything else. Yes, the driving themes here are in fact all about how far people will go to protect their loved ones as we watch this family deal with the desperation and unimaginable tragedy that surrounds their situation.
It seems extremely fitting then that the two leads are in fact married in real life, as their on-screen chemistry and their individual physical performances are very powerful indeed. Krasinski arguably shines most as the responsible father who clearly feels the weight of keeping his family safe on his shoulders, whilst Blunt is the mother and victim of a jolly vexing problem - the impending birth of their fourth child.
The younger actors here are also startlingly excellent - helping to test the boundaries of family dynamics and forgiveness and explore gender roles. There are messages about childhood innocence, uncompromising love and the strength of human spirit too, and all of this is brought to a head in the inevitable and thoroughly terrifying pregnancy sequence which is surely destined to become one of the most memorable and meaningful horror sketches in a long time.
In a way then, this is a film of small, genius moments that carefully amount to a bigger picture, as Krasinski's direction treads as delicately as the footsteps of his characters within. He draws intense focus to small intricacies like the joy of a dance and the terrifying possibility of a nail sticking up out of a floorboard, and this is all brought to life brilliantly not only by the wonderful performances, but also by a great score and some perfect sound design that all gives palpable tension and tangibility to each nail-biting moment.
The big picture painted is a powerful one too - a story that's clearly about family, but also one that in the end is perhaps primarily used to reverse gender roles in a very unusual and liberating third act that is as smart as the rest of the film, if slightly glibber.
All in all though, A Quiet Place (2018), really is an extremely tense, engaging and occasionally touching experience that - like 'Get Out,' did last year - serves to remind us that horror can be as intelligent and emotionally powerful as anything else. This isn't B-movie stuff, this is a real underdog hit, and a film that seems destined to stand tall amongst the best of the year.
That's one impressive feat for a director whose previous directorial work has been restricted to a couple of small indies, but it certainly puts him on the map and gets everyone excited to see what he does next.