After years of stagnation due to countless saccharine, worn–out stories and even worse executions, the horror genre might finally be getting a much–deserved revival. A Quiet Place is the latest addition to a growing list of brutal, yet impeccable thrillers released since Jordan Peele’s Get Out. However, it wasn't directed by a seasoned horror filmmaker like James Wan (director of Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring) or Mike Flanagan (director of Oculus and Before I Wake). Instead, it was created by John Krasinski, whose background in comedy would understandably make him the least likely contender for any accolade in the horror realm. In a video conference for college–press reps, even Krasinski agrees that he’s “not the horror guy.” But to his surprise, after co–writing, directing, and starring in A Quiet Place, the result is arguably one of the most terrific thrillers in recent memory.
“I'm an emotional dude, so I'll tell you everything,” said Krasinski before engaging, with much enthusiasm, in a lengthy and far–reaching discussion about his new film. In the ensuing fifty minutes, the actor–director touched upon his experience working alongside his wife Emily Blunt, the challenges of writing a script of only 67 pages, and the unexpectedly encouraging response from both audiences and critics.
A Quiet Place follows a family of four as they try to survive a post–apocalyptic world while permanently hunted by supernatural blind creatures. But it’s not only the intricate and hyper–realistic CGI that’s muscle–clenching. The menacing monstrosities turn into ferocious killing machines when triggered by the sound of human activity, which places another burden on both the characters and the audience: the choice between staying silent or being massacred.
On the audience’s part, this massacre manifests itself psychologically. When I was watching the characters being slaughtered onscreen, the desperate cries came not from the speakers, but from the people sitting next to me. Even in silent and less graphic scenes, there was a lingering pressure in the theater with audible and increasingly heavy breaths through the crowd.
When trying to create such a strong connection between the audience and the characters, Krasinski didn’t even consider using any scare–tactics. He said, “To scare people is not a genuine end—you're just manipulating them. The key is telling a story in which scares are an added bonus.” The sense of empathy springs, then, from the intensity of Lee (Krasinski) and Evelyn’s (Emily Blunt) love for their children, even when spoken interactions are threatened. Having to use little to no words, the four communicate through meaningful looks and sign language—essential for the family’s oldest child Regan, played by the incredibly talented Millicent Simmonds. Both Regan and Millicent are deaf, and for Krasinski, “casting a deaf actress for this role was non–negotiable.”
The actor’s voice shakes slightly when talking about his experience working with Simmonds. The actress’ mastery in conveying emotions solely through facial expressions and gestures didn’t just move Krasinski, but also led him to pay closer attention to nuances. He said, “I've never had someone take in all of me when we were communicating—to watch someone actually observe every little gesture that I made, to watch my eyebrows.” It was thanks to Simmonds’ guidance that the rest of the cast learned how to express emotions in ASL. He said, “The father is a guy who doesn't care about anything in the world but keeping people safe. So, as [Millicent] said, all of his signs should be very curt and short. Emily [Blunt] is trying to give these kids a much bigger life, so you can see that hers are much more poetic.”
Indeed, in what is perhaps the most challenging role of her career, Blunt simply shines. Her tears, sighs, and worried looks make it hard for viewers not to share her agony, and her performance is definitely one of the key elements in building the realism that ultimately makes A Quiet Place so scary. Though, in the early production stages, Krasinski wasn’t sure that his wife would agree to embark on such an ambitious project with him, he is grateful that he had an opportunity to watch as she let herself be absorbed by her character. He said, “I've been firsthand seeing how incredibly talented, how amazing she is.”
Though Krasinski describes A Quiet Place as a movie about a relatable, simple family, he laughs as he confesses that he “wasn’t smart enough” to think of it as a commentary on the scarcity of silence in our society’s pervasive tumult. He said, “Not to sound too hippy, but when an entire group of people goes dead–silent, you realize what a forest really sounds like. In our world, we're always on our phones—but if you ever asked people to name ten sounds that you can hear in the forest, I bet they'd only get through two.”
While I must admit that I’m struggling to come up with ten answers, I could have given twenty had Krasinski asked about the sounds you could hear in the theater during the movie’s preview. Not only does A Quiet Place span what is probably the widest range of emotions I’ve ever seen covered in a 90–minute film, but its simplicity allows for a great variety of audience responses. Each spectator will interpret the images differently, as he or she wishes. I heard everything from nervous giggles covered by high–pitched shrieks, to excited clapping and the sound of scrunched plastic bottles, to feet tapping and periodic sobbing. But A Quiet Place’s greatest achievement is, ultimately, its use of the unique, muscle–clenching sound of complete silence after which a well–deserved standing ovation seemed almost deafening.
A Quiet Place will be showing at Cinemark starting April 6. Check showtimes and buy tickets here.