The finest horror films have concepts that tap into elemental fears not just in shocking ways, but in engaging ones as well.  They find entertainment value in the gripping suspense and provoked panic that tingle our inseparable fight-or-flight human instincts wired to our senses.  Surprises are easy, but building lasting reverberation from those sensations is the challenge.  John Krasinski’s directorial effort, A Quiet Place, chooses to strike our sense of hearing, combining a slick creature-feature with a chamber piece of deadly silence that immerses the audience in compelling thrills.

With no prologue or explanation other than a display card of Day 89, A Quiet Place puts us right the thick of a not-too-distant post-disaster future of 2020.  We see an unnamed family unit scrounging for supplies during the daytime in a ransacked corner store.  The devil in the details is that they are all barefoot.  Without an apparent threat visible, each person is extra careful to move gingerly as to not to make the slightest sound.  One among them is deaf and they communicate non-verbally with American Sign Language.  You ascertain quickly that sound is the enemy because the biggest nail-biting pause of this brilliant opening sequence is perpetuated by removing the batteries from an electronic child’s toy.

A consequence to noise is revealed soon after and, with hushed emotional explosion, the bewildering menace of A Quiet Place becomes very real and exceptionally frightening from then on.  The glimpses of the blind and savagely sharp beasts that hunt the men, women, and children of this film reveal their lightning quick movement to prey on sound.

LESSON #1: LISTEN TO YOUR PARENTS-- If the parents in this film could scream “For goodness sake, how many times do I have to tell you?!” without inciting a deadly attack they probably would.  Kids that listen to their parents fare better in this or any other world that those who don’t.  Listen the first time!

When the time hops to Day 472, the film follows our unnamed-until-later family to their bunkered rural upstate New York homestead.  In guarded fashion boosted by lived-in production design details from Oscar winner Jeffrey Beecroft (Dances With Wolves, The Game), they have built a system of alerts and protocols and domesticated as noiseless a living space as possible amid the farmhouse, barn, and cornfield pastures of their immediate boundaries, melding resourcefulness with the perilous environmental and domestic challenges.  The father (Krasinski) and mother (Emily Blunt) instill safety and acute awareness at all times to their children, a deaf teen daughter (Wonderstruck discovery Millicent Simmonds) and meek son (Noah Jupe of Wonder and Suburbicon).

LESSON #2: ACCIDENTS CAN AND WILL HAPPEN-- Because those stinking kids are imperfect little disasters, good parents and more learned children have to be ready for inevitable mistakes.  It all comes down to preparedness on one end and reaction on the other.  If both ends have plans and contingencies, the severity of the accident is lessened.

All of them carry a heavy burden of grief that has not been helped by isolation and bleak survival odds.  Adding incalculable risk is an impending life moment that should bring joy instead of trepidation.  The mother is pregnant and due any day.  How can a deaf girl manage and self-regulate the noise she makes?  How is an infant baby going to stay quiet with uncontained threats that can pounce on any whimper with murderous ferocity?

LESSON #3: A WOMEN’S PAIN TOLERANCE IS PHENOMENAL-- Women who have delivered babies should walk around with a WWE-level championship belt and be bowed down to by every man on the planet.  Emily Blunt’s character’s power to extinguish the physical pains that arrive in this film in virtual silence is superhuman.  The rest of us are those poor YouTube saps from The Try Guys.  A splinter would kill men in this film. 

Through the lens of talented Danish cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen (Far from the Madding Crowd, Fences) zooming with dramatic irony to focus and linger on the future potential tenor triggers, John Krasinski puts us through the worriment wringer with grizzled gloss and potent panache in a skillful and clever PG-13 thriller.  In what will stand to be their big break bankrolled by the horror hub Platinum Dunes (fronted by Michael Bay no less), the actor-turned-director and his screenwriters Bryan Woods and Scott Beck have orchestrated a pitch perfect pathway of pitfalls and provocations.  Similar to It Comes At Night last summer but fresher, A Quiet Place takes the approach of “less is more,” skipping a spoon-fed sideshow carnival in favor of a more grounded crusade to smashing success with few contrivances.

If there is one tonal ingredient that is a shade off it’s composer Marco Beltrami’s score.  The interludes by the veteran go-to collaborator of James Mangold (Logan, 3:10 to Yuma) are wonderful, but even his shrewd ambiance becomes minorly intrusive to over-telegraph and impatiently announce too many alarming moments in a movie that is trying to pump the silence factor.  Opposite to DVD/Blu-ray special features trends of isolated score tracks, it would be actually awesome and unique to experience A Quiet Place without Beltrami’s score and let the visual angles and acting reactions provide the shocks.

In a draw stronger than the chills, the powerful family dynamic of A Quiet Place is remarkably impassioned. The near-dialogueless performances from all involved make for a level of difficulty matched by each actor.  Deaf actress Millicent Simmonds was outstanding in Wonderstruck and Noah Jupe was the best part of Suburbicon during last year’s awards season.  Both impressively mature even more here, cementing the future star trajectories.

The real feature attraction above the monsters is the real-life married couple of John Krasinski and Emily Blunt.  The duo make for one of the best cinematic coupling crossovers in quite some time.  In this treacherous setting, no one acts this limiting scenario out better than Blunt, who could rewrite the performance definition of anguish with every bead of sweat, tear, or furrowed brow.  Compare this performance with her likely verbose turn as Mary Poppins later this year and comprehend the full range of her talent.  Near and dear, her husband’s soft eyes behind the brawny scruff hide the heroic heart of this entire story.  When the two share earbuds playing a slow and meaningful Neil Young ballad, their unspoken devotion of their closeness and the wordless exchange of a dance creates a fleeting yet magical moment.  Connection and heartstrings at such a level are rarely seen in any horror film.  That’s the reverberation of engagement so many lack.

LESSON #4: SURVIVOR’S GUILT-- The enduring agony of the dangerous and feral living conditions of A Quiet Place is difficult enough.  Their situation is made even more arduous with the strong feeling regret in their hearts caused by familial loss.  Each member of the family has a debilitating case of survivor’s guilt where the past cannot be changed and each have to forgive, heal, and move forward.

LESSON #5: FATHERLY PROMISES-- Like any good parent, Lesson #4 hits no one harder than the patriarch.  The traditional father role is that of protector.  Krasinski’s papa has made determined vows to see to his family’s safety, even to the point of instilling some of the same persistence, initiative, and “can do” attitude into each of this kin.  His work is tireless and his watchful guard is infinite.  The last thing you might expect in a horror film is “daddy feels,” but they end up more lethal than the killer creatures.