‘A Quiet Place’ is fun joyride through hell, offers tension that refuses to let up

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Grade: 4.5/5.0

“What happens if you sneeze or fart?” is a question that has permeated dozens of online comment sections ever since the first trailer for “A Quiet Place” was released, revealing a post-apocalyptic world where every noise, whether it be the creak of a floorboard or a cry for help, yields certain death.

Another valid question that pokes glaring holes into the conceit of “A Quiet Place”: “Couldn’t you just play loud music so the creatures wouldn’t hear you?” Throughout the whole runtime of “A Quiet Place,” one will be tempted to ask questions like these — questions that make a film fall apart if you think about it for more than two seconds.

One recommendation? Don’t. Recline your seat as far back as it goes, and enjoy the best pure, “straightforward” monster movie this side of “Jurassic Park.”

“A Quiet Place” seems straightforward, in that it doesn’t so much reinvent the wheel as it takes the wheel, oils it and then spins it really, really efficiently for a lean 95 minutes.

Most of this efficiency comes from the simplicity of the film’s conceit — the Abbott family, led by patriarch Lee (John Krasinski) and matriarch Evelyn (Emily Blunt), along with their children Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe), live a day-to-day existence on a pastoral farm, growing their own crops while also living every moment in complete silence for fear of a looming threat that can hear every audible sound.

The Abbotts use felt squares as Monopoly tiles and dull pencils to write. They only eat only soft foods, such as breads and fish. Krasinski, who also co-wrote and directed the film, fills every frame of “A Quiet Place” with minute details like these, building a well-rounded post-apocalyptic world without a single piece of dialogue.

We’re never explicitly told how the monsters came to earth or how society crumbled, but with a few newspaper clippings here and there and a couple of shots of an abandoned town, we are forced to slowly make the connections ourselves over the course of the film. We’re living in the moment with the Abbotts, figuring out how to survive.

As such, everyday objects become anxiety-inducing weapons — anything that can make noise, from a lamp to a chair to the misplacement of a pointy pin, are threats to the family. Krasinski has a good laugh by focusing the camera on these objects a couple seconds too long, taunting the audience to underestimate the loud pumps of a washing machine. An early scene, which involves taking batteries out of a toy, is the tensest moment in the film.

 Every frame of “A Quiet Place” is a gut-punch of anxiety, pulverizing the nerves until things, quite literally, explode. The second half of the film is an exercise in strong pacing, moving quickly and fastidiously but never sacrificing tension for violence or gore. Ironically, the only thing that slows the movie down is the last-minute introduction of dialogue. The conversations between characters are written in overt cliches that seem straight out of any generic Michael Bay action film — that’s no surprise, as he is a producer here.

It’s easy to wish that Krasinski took “A Quiet Place” a few steps further — that he removed all conversation and score and left the movie in complete silence, or that he took the “Jaws” route and kept the monsters’ appearance hidden until the end. These decisions might have been alienating, but is there any world without sound that isn’t?

Yet Krasinski has crafted a film that, while not revolutionary, is a great deal of fun. With its ever-abundant flow of monsters and wholesome emphasis on secular family values and heart, “A Quiet Place” resembles the inventive thrills of Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” or the soulful energy of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” more than it does modern efforts to subvert the horror genre.

And just like most of Spielberg’s repertoire, “A Quiet Place” is best experienced when one clears the mind of any cynicism, simply going along for the ride. One may know what’s around the next turn, but does it really matter when there’s this much fun to be had?

“A Quiet Place” opens tonight at UA Berkeley 7.

Contact Nils Jepson at [email protected].