Like Aliens retooled as a militant librarian's fantasy, actor-director John Krasinski's relentlessly effective horror film thrives on a nifty premise: In a post-apocalyptic world, a family holes up in a farmhouse and tries to survive in a countryside where the slightest sound brings out deadly monsters. It's a high concept that demands the dialogue be kept to a minimum; characters communicate by subtitled sign language, eye contact and extreme whispering. That makes A Quiet Place pure, bold cinema, the images and sound design working together to scare the bejesus out of you.
Save some late-in-the-day exposition via basement whiteboards and newspaper headlines, Krasinski gives us admirably little backstory for the alien invasion. Instead, after a tragic prologue, we find a family – dad (Krasinski), mom (Emily Blunt), son (Noah Jupe) and daughter (Wonderstuck’s Millicent Simmonds), whose deafness means she can't hear anything sneaking up on her – neck-deep in real trouble. Nerve-shredding set pieces revolve around a nail sticking out of a wooden stair, a flooding basement and a Signs-like run through a cornfield. All are mounted with ruthless brio by director Krasinski, fully escaping his cuddly Office niche.
The rules of this universe are fast and loose, so the monsters can't hear over a waterfall, but they can listen through walls from miles away. And while the family dynamics lack nuance, the film is still a neat allegory for the challenges of parenting pushed to extremes. It's left for real-life husband and wife Krasinski and Blunt to add poignancy – and they do, particularly during one iPod-assisted slow dance. The CGI creatures are striking, and the film pulses with good ideas, a rarity nowadays. For example, the moment Blunt reveals that she is pregnant, you're on tenterhooks for a childbirth scene in which she can't scream in pain. It all adds up to a monster movie worth shouting about – or, come to think about it, maybe not.
By Ian Freer