The immortal tagline from the original Alien was ‘In space they can’t hear you scream’. In the masterful new horror film A Quiet Place no-one wants to be heard – screaming, talking, making any sound at all. For in this film’s warning, “If they can’t hear you, they can’t hunt you.”
Horror is the genre in which sound or the lack of it really comes into its own – the person stalked by a monster or madman, terrified to make a sound in the dark. But whereas in most films this element will drive one or two scenes, the great originality of this film is that it is never, ever safe to make a peep.
The premise is chillingly straightforward. A meteor has carried terrifying monsters to Earth, which have wreaked destruction. Blind but with acute hearing, these carnivorous beasties bear down at speed upon anything audible above the natural noises of wind and water. Mankind’s survivors live in silence.
The focus is on one family. We first encounter Lee and Evelyn Abbott (real-life husband and wife John Krasinski and Emily Blunt) and their children on Day 89 of their post-apocalyptic ordeal, as they tiptoe barefooted around a ransacked supermarket in a desolate town, scavenging for supplies. Speaking to each other in sign language, they measure every step, leave no movement to chance. When the youngest picks up a battery-powered toy, the rest of the family descend upon him as though he’s shot someone. His father signs a novel admonishment: “Listen to me. Too loud.”
Fast forward to day Day 472 and the farmhouse where the Abbotts have carved out a carefully regimented, silent life. Sand is poured over the ground to soften their footsteps, floorboards painted to avoid the creak, no-one speaks. Lee sends out SOS signals in the hope that someone will respond.
Due to an earlier tragedy, guilt hangs over their silent routines. Regan (Millicent Simmonds), whose deafness is the reason the family can sign, feels angry and estranged from her father; the younger Marcus (Noah Jupe) is constantly afraid. Surprisingly, Evelyn is pregnant; how they’re going to keep the birth and the baby quiet is anyone’s guess.
By this time, Krasinski, who has also co-written and directed the film, has revealed just enough of the monsters to justify the world of caution and fear in which his characters exist. Even when there is no evident danger, their endless vigilance generates tension. And as the birth draws closer, Krasinski starts to turn the screw.
The result is one of the most gripping, jaw-clenching, self-hugging, edge-of-seat horror films in a very long time. In perhaps the most notable sequence, a lone Evelyn has to contend both with the imminent birth and an excruciating injury, desperately trying to contain her pain and fear as a monster bounds down the stairs. The ever-amazing Blunt is wincingly convincing – easily worthy of being anointed the genre’s new ‘scream queen’, if only she’d scream.
Krasinski directs such sequences with a control of space and sound worthy of Steven Spielberg (in fact, there is an echo here of Spielberg’s War of the Worlds). And like the veteran, he accompanies his chills and thrills with a solid human story.
A Quiet Place is more than alien horror, it’s a deeply poignant family drama, in which the parental instinct to protect one’s children is severely tested, and movingly conveyed by the two leads. They’re well-matched by the youngsters, especially the beautifully expressive Simmonds, who is deaf herself, and equally remarkable in this week’s Wonderstruck.
Be warned: A Quiet Place will create such a hush in cinemas that anyone daring to munch on their popcorn does so at their peril.
This review first appeared in The Sunday Herald