SXSW 2018: John Krasinski’s A QUIET PLACE is Barn-Burning High Concept Horror

A finely distilled genre exercise with heart

The 2018 edition of the SXSW Conference and Festivals is here, and the Cinapse team is on the ground, covering all things film.

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A Quiet Place had a pretty great trailer. The high concept of a world ravaged by some insidious force which destroys anything that makes a sound was clearly conveyed. There was tension and energy there, and an interesting cast including John Krasinski starring and directing. That trailer reveals a mere fraction of the world building, character work, and meticulously thrilling set pieces that A Quiet Place has to offer.

I loved this film. But I might as well level what minimal criticisms I do have with it in order to get around to lavishing specific praise on it. The screenplay from Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, and Krasinski structures the film in such a way that a huge chunk of the run time is one giant and relentless set piece. This is actually something I love about the telling of this tale, but it comes with compromises. You’ll need to suspend your disbelief perhaps a little harder than you’d like in order to give in to the ride. With how meticulous the film is, there are some “cheats” and tension-ratcheting moments that strain credulity. But they’re in service of entertaining you as hard as humanly possible, so I’ll allow them. Also, it’s clear that “married couple in real life” John Krasinski and Emily Blunt do indeed have children together, but somehow the baby in A Quiet Place does not behave like any baby I’ve ever experienced on this mortal coil.

Due to the nature of the high concept, A Quiet Place requires its characters to be almost mute, utilizing sign language to communicate, treading slowly and barefoot around paths softened by sand. This setup allows for a unique viewing experience and gives the sound designers a chance to shine. An ideal film festival experience, the SXSW crowd at Austin’s historic Paramount theater enjoyed a glorious 7.1 Dolby surround sound mix which shined with this screening. Those skeptical of the “jump scare” may want to steer clear of A Quiet Place, but if you ask me this film makes the whole concept of the jump scare fun again. Playing with loud noises that punctuate a deafening silence had me jumping out of my seat with my heart racing on numerous occasions. And don’t worry, those jump scares aren’t all the film has going for it.

On top of the rich soundscape, you’ve also got a gorgeous creature design for our nameless invaders. Are they aliens? Monsters of our own making? Evolution gone amuck? Krasinski and Co. let you sort those details out on your own. This is the story of one family navigating the perils of life under a new set of rules. And it’s a compelling family. Young actors Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmons (a phenomenal deaf actress playing a deaf character which is central to this story but which won’t be spoiled here) absolutely captivate as terrified kids who are becoming hardened survivors as their parents push and prepare them for this world. Krasinski and Blunt also anchor the film with a wholly believable relationship that adds intimacy and urgency to the story. These characters are key to the success of the film, and without dialog to flesh them out, Krasinski adeptly tells a visual story that adds a heartbeat to the thrills without ever feeling hamstrung by the film’s own concept.

Despite the few cheats that I mentioned but won’t spoil here, A Quiet Place does a wonderful job of building a very specific world, following a set of consistent rules, and taking every opportunity it can to scare the living shit out of you while also endearing you to its loveable characters. A Quiet Place is a big screen movie through and through, designed for mass audiences to shriek and jump and laugh together. Easily the best film I’ve ever seen under the Platinum Dunes label, A Quiet Place deserves a spot among the very best mainstream studio horror entries of this generation.

And I’m Out.

A Quiet Place hits US theaters April 6th from Platinum Dunes.

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