Did you ever think that quiet – the hush in which no talk is above a whisper – could scare the hell out of you? A Quiet Place does just that, raising the stakes on terror until no one can hear you scream. As director, star and cowriter (with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck), John Krasinski hits on a killer hook: What if a family of four, among the few left alive after a monster apocalypse, can survive on their upstate New York farm as long as they don't make a sound? Any sound. At all.
Glimpsed newspaper headlines don't tell us where these creatures came from or why; we just know the monsters are blind and hearing is used as sonar for finding prey. That, and they move like a dervish out of your worst nightmare. It helps that Dad (Krasinski), Mom (Emily Blunt) and son (Noah Jupe) have all learned sign language in deference to a nonhearing daughter (the glorious, deaf actress Millicent Simmonds of Wonderstruck). Oh, yes, there was a younger brother ... but what happens to the toy-loving tyke early in the game should probably not be spoiled. Neither should much else about this dazzling, devilishly clever horror film that goes beyond scares to the intangibles that define us.
The acting is flawless, with Simmonds and young Jupe making every minute count. Blunt (Krasinski's wife off screen) is in a class by herself, taking a near-silent role and building a tour de force of expressive emotion. Her scene in a bathtub, pregnant and alone while evil approaches, is shattering in every sense of the word. And while Krasinski excels as the bearded Big Daddy, it's as a filmmaker that he scores a heart-piercing triumph. Best known for his comic affability as an actor on The Office, he revealed surprising directing chops with his David Foster Wallace adaptation Brief Interviews With Hideous Men (2009) and the well-honed family dramedy The Hollars (2016). Still, nothing in his previous work preps you for the formal intelligence and stylistic daring he instills into every frame here. Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen and editor Christopher Tellefsen add to the creeping menace.
Only the score by Marco Beltrami seems too much, since A Quiet Place works best when it sneaks up on you. But what raises it to the next level is the humanism that lies beneath the horror. The question Krasinski tackles is what defines a family and what's needed to preserve it? "Who are we," asks Mom, "if we can't protect our children?" The answers are worked out with satisfying complexity and genuine feeling, proving indeed that home is where family is. This new horror classic will fry your nerves to a frazzle.