The horror films that linger into the wee small hours after watching are often the simplest ones. A Quiet Place, director/co-writer/actor John Krasinski’s startlingly good monster movie, quickly establishes a lean, mean scenario and then cranks up the tension. This is a ruthlessly efficient primal scream generator that somehow doesn’t leave the viewer feeling ill-used, and audiences are going to go bananas.
The premise has a scribbled-on-a-cocktail-napkin purity: The world is overrun by hordes of eyeless creatures. Noises ring the dinner bell. As a family in a remote farmhouse soon learns, virtually any sound will do. The mother (Emily Blunt) is expecting. Working in a no-frills, John Carpenterish fashion, Krasinski depicts the worst-case scenario very early on—and then starts grinding the screws, following the various family members through their dangerously mundane routines while also slyly hinting at how easily their defenses could fall apart. Which, of course, they do.
The home-invasion genre is a fertile one, and it’s pretty astounding just how many pressure points Krasinski manages to wham simultaneously here, utilizing every dark nook and cranny for maximum unease. (Speaking as a fairly jaded horror fan who saw A Quiet Place in a theater full of fairly jaded horror fans, one particular moment—involving a damaged water pipe—made all of us let out a collective moan.) The fact that the fascinatingly gross monsters aren’t particularly camera-shy is a bonus, really.
Even the most ingenious thrill rides can get exhausting, and A Quiet Place’s relentless third act certainly runs that risk. What keeps it from ever grinding down into outright sadism, however, are the performers, whose characters are realistically smart and capable when separated (Millicent Simmonds, the hearing-impaired actress who was so terrific in Wonderstruck, is very much The Real Deal), as well as a family unit that’s even stronger than its individual parts. When the apocalypse comes, these are the folks you want in your corner.