The use of breathless silence to create white-knuckled suspense in a horror chiller as the characters await the inevitable confrontation with evil separates good scary movies from bad. Silence is golden in actor/director John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place” (*** OUT OF ****), a clever but contrived synthesis of science fiction and horror after an apocalyptic alien invasion of Earth. A species of scene-stealing fiends straight out of an H.P. Lovecraft nightmare have infested the planet. Equipped with hypersensitive hearing, they prey mercilessly on mankind, tracking people down by any sounds they make and then eviscerating them with trenchant talons and porcupine teeth. “Nightlight” scenarists Bryan Woods & Scott Beck, along with Krasinski, have formulated a unique premise. Menacing as these ultra-deadly alien spawn are, they cannot see. Indeed, they are as blind as bats! These skeletal creatures make gnashing sounds as they stalk their victims and then cut loose with ear-splitting shrieks like tortured swine screaming in agony. Although untold numbers of these invaders roam the countryside, they usually launch individual attacks rather than group raids. Unlike typical creature features that conceal their monstrosities in the shadows, “A Quiet Place” presents these gruesome extraterrestrials in all their creepy ugliness. Moreover, these unholy devils strike like lightning, and they can slash through metal with their talons as if it were tin-foil. The CGI gurus at Industrial Light & Magic have forged a genuinely frightening creature that will join the pantheon of unearthly fiends like those featured in “Alien,” “Predator,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and “The Thing.” Whimpering is more than enough to get you killed in an instant if one of these aliens lurks in the vicinity. Krasinski and his writers devote several scenes that show how this one family in rural upstate New York has survived under these death-defying conditions with improvised but elaborate safeguards.
Basically, “A Quiet Place” focuses on one family. Smart and sharp as it is, this $17-million scary saga qualifies as an old-fashioned B-movie that provides minimal information about its alien apocalypse. No bespectacled scientists deliver lectures about this extraordinary invasion. In the farmhouse where the family holes up, newspaper clippings are plastered about the room about the alien onslaught and its deadly consequences. The Abbot family are scavenging a deserted supermarket for anything of value. Lee Abbot (John Krasinski of “Leatherheads”) and his wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt of “Loopers”) are conducting an inventory of canned goods, prescription medicine, and other miscellaneous items without uttering a syllable. The Abbot’s deaf daughter Reagan (Millicent Simmonds of “Wonderstruck”) and her younger, little brother, Beau (newcomer Cade Woodward), are browsing through the toys, while her older brother Marcus (Noah Jupe of “Wonder”) is engaged elsewhere. Beau spots a toy model of the Space Shuttle on a shelf just beyond his fingers. Struggling to reach it, he topples the model from the shelf. Fortunately, Reagan intercepts it before the toy crashes to the floor. The shuttle comes equipped with batteries. Before Beau can activate the spacecraft’s lights and sound effects, Lee intervenes and confiscates the batteries.
No matter where they are, the Abbots behave like Trappist monks, adopting a vow of silence, for fear of attracting the aliens with noise of the least decibel. Rarely do the Abbots speak above a raspy whisper. Primarily, they communicate with sign language. The lengthening shadows outside the supermarket warn them that dusk is approaching. Lee, Evelyn, and their three children leave the store and walk home. They follow a path piled with dirt to muffle not only their own footsteps, but also anything else, like crunchy leaves, that might betray their presence. Reagan takes pity on Beau and gives the Space Shuttle model back to him with its batteries intact. Tragedy occurs later when they reach the woods, and naive little Beau activates the toy Space Shuttle. The Abbotts freeze in their footsteps as the Shuttle toy shatters the silence with an abrupt and noisy crescendo of sound. An evil creature with its acute sonar-like hearing smashes through the woods like a juggernaut toward the little boy. Lee scrambles desperately to save his young son, but he is too late. Evelyn blames herself for not having watched Beau closer, while Reagan is mortified by her role in giving him the shuttle toy with the batteries in it. Thus, ends day number 89!
When we see the Abbots again, 472 days have elapsed. Evelyn has gotten pregnant again. Lee toils in his laboratory workshop in the basement of their rambling farmhouse where he tinkers with hearing aids for Reagan. Occasionally, he broadcasts a signal on his ham radio, but nobody has ever responded. The couple have developed other items to ensure their own survival. They have converted a crate into a crib. Lee has equipped it for an infant to sleep in comfortably without alarming aliens. The father has installed an oxygen tank with a face mask, so the little one can sleep peacefully with the lid shut. You can imagine how an infant howling would arouse the wrath of those tyrannical aliens. The entire house has been marked so nobody steps on a board which might creak loudly. Occasionally, accidents occur. While Marcus and Reagan are playing a board game, Marcus knocks over a candle, and a fire erupts briefly. Lee smothers the blaze, and the family take up defensive positions. The most unforgettable scene involves Evelyn. Her water breaks, and then she steps on a nail with her bare foot! The sudden gust of breath that she takes brings a monster storming onto the premises. Lee, Marcus, and Reagan are away from the house when this happens. Evelyn cringes in a tub as the inhuman heathen skulks about the bathroom without realizing her presence.
Clocking in at 90 spine-tingling minutes, Krasinski’s movie shuns those predictable jump-scare incidents where everybody screams like banshees. The suspense and the tension that “A Quiet Place” methodically builds with impeccable artistry will keep you gasping for breath as you struggle not to make a sound.