A Quiet Place is an unbearably tense horror movie, and it barely makes any noise

Welcome to a whole new apocalypse.

Humanity has been contemplating its own end since before we could even pull it off ourselves (like with nuclear weapons or genetically engineered viruses, or whatever), but we have never before conceived of anything like A Quiet Place. This is ironic, because it seems at first as if the movie has tossed out one of the things that, since the late 1920s, we have come to consider essential to cinema: sound.

What's happening here is that humanity is being hunted by hideous monsters who are blind but have incredibly sensitive hearing. (The movie keeps the creatures hidden for a very long time, which is far more tantalizingly horrible than if it kept showing them off.) As we meet the family of survivors A Quiet Place is centered around, they are scavenging a shop in a small upstate New York town that appears entirely depopulated.

Mom (Emily Blunt) and Dad (John Krasinski) and kids — a girl around 12 (Millicent Simmonds), a boy maybe 8 or 9 (Noah Jupe) and a tyke barely out of toddlerhood (Cade Woodward) — are all barefoot, the better to muffle their footfalls. They communicate only through sign language. They have to be careful not to drop anything that might clatter and bang. Later, we see that their farmstead house and surroundings have been soundproofed as much as possible: painted markings on the wooden floors to show where it's safe to step without creaking; paths through the fields and between house and barn marked out in sand to prevent crunching of leaves and twigs; a Monopoly board with felt playing pieces; dinner served on cloth, not on dishes that might clank.

It's impossible to overstate what an audacious choice this is for Krasinski, who directed the film, to have made. (He also wrote the screenplay with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck.) What is a horror movie without screaming? What, they can't use guns to fight the monsters?

And then comes an unexpected noise, and it is bone-chilling startling, a horror in itself. Will it draw the monsters? Any sound outside surely means that it has. Instead of sound having to be amplified to be scary, any sound here has the power to cut right through you. The stillness and calmness of the life of this family only magnifies their terror. Instead of eschewing cinematic sound, A Quiet Place utilizes it in a way entirely unlike any movie I've ever seen (or heard) before.

There isn't a single aspect of this movie that isn't brilliant. It opens on "Day 89" of the end of the world, skipping past the part of the story that we will have seen too many times before to have been surprised by it yet again. And then it jumps to "Day 472," truly in the thick of what will be unique and fresh extrapolations of its already inventive scenario.

Not only is the how and why of this apocalypse unlike anything we've cinematically experienced before, so is the gentleness and even hominess with which it plays out. It's hardly a "nice" end of the world, obviously, but humanity has been literally unable to descend into a Mad Max–style every-man-for-himself dystopia. That would be too noisy. This is a movie about the absolute essentialness of working together to survive, of the bonds of family as life-giving. But there are hints of other survivors: signal bonfires light up the landscape around this family's farm in the evenings, a silent "hello, we're still here" from afar. All hope has not yet been lost.

On the other hand, Krasinski finds unexpected dread in that hope, too: By Day 472, Mom is quite heavily pregnant. How is she going to give birth without making any noise? How are they going to stop a newborn from wailing out loud constantly? How many new challenges does survival demand?

A Quiet Place is often an almost unbearably tense film. It is frequently excruciating in its terror. I am only very rarely able to say that about movies that are meant to frighten us. This one scared the hell out of me. That is so wonderfully refreshing. ♦

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