For horror movie directors, there is no praise higher than that of Stephen King, who was so enamored with John Krasinski’s directorial effort in A Quiet Place, that he called it simply an “extraordinary piece of work.” Krasinski (of erstwhile The Office fame) not only directed but co-wrote and stars in the movie alongside his real-life wife, Emily Blunt. At its South by Southwest Film Festival debut, the audience rewarded Krasinski with a standing ovation. One blogger, went so far as to call it a “masterpiece,” a term John eschewed with characteristic humility: “[A]s someone who grew up Catholic, I never can consider this a masterpiece. So, you saying that is amazing and I don’t even know if I can process that, but it makes me feel really good.”
With this kind of buildup for Krasinski’s film, was I to be disappointed?
Far from it.
The plot is simple: in the dystopian not-so-distant future, blind aliens have invaded earth and hunt humans by sound. The spindle-legged spider-crabs have small, indistinct faces and oversized ears protected by a series of sectioned membranes. How are Kraskinski and his family to survive? With silence, of course.
They communicate primarily through a series of hand gestures and sign language, muffling the sounds of everyday life through countless modifications. The movie is a toe-curling 95-minute thrill ride where even descending a flight of stairs becomes a matter of survival. Complicating the circumstances are the family’s children and the wife’s pregnancy. Because babies make a lot of noise.
Also making a lot of noise? Audience members eating peanut M&M’s. In the dark and wordless cavern of A Quiet Place theater, every crunch or shuffle of feet is suddenly loudly audible. Krasinski uses silence as a sort of sixth sense, relying on it so heavily that the audience becomes aware of minutia that might otherwise be lost in an audible splashing of blood, or a victim’s scream.
To call A Quiet Place a horror movie is a bit of a misnomer. “Suspense” is better. (Krasinski actually calls himself a “scaredy cat”). In the manner of M. Night Shyamalan, Krasinski crafts a nail-biter with limited gore by relying instead on perspective, light, and a sense of impeccable timing. Indeed, there are moments when Krasinski seems to be channeling Shyamalan vis-à-vis the similar rural-family-survives-alien-invasion movie, Signs. Nevertheless, Krasinski plays it well. So well that even when the audience suspects there’s something coming, the result still elicits a gasp. When every sound matters, even the four-note refrain from an out-of-tune piano sets the viewers’ hair on end.
Like all art, A Quiet Place is informed by Krasinski’s own story. The 6’3” everyman found a toehold post-Office as the boyish love interest, the straight man played against the quirk of manic pixie dream girls like Ginnifer Goodwin (License to Wed) before branching out to meatier, more heroic roles. In real life, his love’s target is the effervescent Blunt, who he has repeatedly called “way out of his league.” After two children and eight years of marriage, their interviews are fun to watch because they continue to be so genuinely smitten with one another.
Denizens of Hollywood, they have likewise seemed to survive the plague of temporariness that infects most Hollywood romances. This could be owing in part to Krasinski’s upbringing in a Polish Catholic household just outside Boston where his parents’ marriage was no flimsy construct. During License to Wed, he was quoted as saying: “I actually grew up Catholic, so I know all about [marriage preparation classes] — they try to get you to understand that marriage isn’t just this little thing you can offer someone as a gift. It’s a really important thing to learn how sometimes it’s not that easy to spend all that time with someone. They basically just make you aware of all the sacrifices you have to make before you do it.”
Krasinski’s desire for a deeper connection to his family ancestry motivated a trip to Poland with his father in 2012. Led by Father Henryk Palucki of the St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Byton (west of Warsaw), he and his father perused a series of small Polish villages, finally arriving in Stefanowo where Krasinski’s great-grandfather (who immigrated to America) was born: “To be standing there with my father, the generation before me, looking out at the history of the generations before him was one of the most emotional experiences of my life,” Krasinski told Ancestry.com
Unsurprisingly, then, one of the movie’s central themes – the strength of family – is played beautifully and convincingly. In one scene, Krasinski and a pregnant Blunt dance to music only one of them hears through an earpiece he has painstakingly crafted. The audience senses that they have been granted a voyeuristic window into a husband and wife’s intimate attempt at finding beauty in a hopeless place.
The birth of Blunt and Krasinski’s second child helped him inject the movie with its own kind of terror. The combination of both a desperate longing to protect a child, and a desperate fear of losing a child were prominent enough for him to forego the traditional slasher fare in favor of a more enduring narrative. Krasinski says, “The scares were secondary to how powerful this could be as an allegory or metaphor for parenthood. For me, [the movie] is all about parenthood.” With barely a word, Krasinski conveys the complex relationship between a father and his daughter, one fraught with misunderstanding and guilt. In similar fashion, he is able to elicit the tenderness of a mother’s love, and the anxiety of a little boy. With a few faces and a stifled giggle, a wife jokes with her husband about how fat she feels at the end of her pregnancy.
There are also shades of the divine. Krasinski embodies the loving father whose knowledge is broader than his family’s. In one of the earlier scenes, we see the family clasp hands in a silent prayer before eating. In another, Blunt tells her child, “Your father will always protect you. Always.”
Krasinski spends a good portion of the movie scanning a bank of monitors and radio frequencies, giving us the sense of his near-omniscience. This view is reinforced when we see him take his nightly post from the top of the silo where he lights a signal fire and sees the whole of the fields and forest, always vigilant, never resting. Indeed, the preparations he makes and the instructions he gives prove critical in ways both anticipated and not.
If the central theme of A Quiet Place was simply survival, it wouldn’t differ much from other horror films. Instead, it’s survival together.
It is the ordinariness of a family rising to extraordinary heights because of the love that connects them, what each is willing to sacrifice for the sake of the other, that propels this movie to real heights. The appeal of A Quiet Place – a horror film with a plot so simple it borders on sophomoric – is its deep meaning.
With barely a word, Krasinski reaches even the most die-hard horror cynics with a single notion: family is forever. In that, he transcends even the genre itself and A Quiet Place becomes not just a great horror film, but a great work of art.
Sarah Perry is the Director of Partnerships at Family Research Council Action and an attorney with a law degree from the University of Virginia. She is the author of three books, and a contributor to two others. Sarah has written on parenting, public policy, education, and the arts, and her writing has appeared at The Federalist, The Stream, ThinkChristian, The Christian Post, and CNS News, among others.