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A Quiet Place review - a magnificently controlled personal horror story

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A Quiet Place is the most intelligently directed horror film since Trey Edward Shults' It Comes At Night. In repeating that film's beguiling tone, albeit with a less stylistically- and more technically- obvious central conceit, John Krasinski recasts Shults' film's chilling control of light into a mastery of sound.

It's perhaps a reference to the overbearing reliance on quiet-loud dynamics in modern horror cinema, but Krasinski commands those dynamics better than most because his concept, being as ingenious as it is, demands it.

In what is surely a personal story, Krasinski and real-life spouse Emily Blunt star as the parents of a family in a monster-ravaged America. The monsters are entirely blind, and rely entirely on sound to seek their prey. One misplaced jostle that knocks over even the tiniest object will set them off, and likely spell death.

As a result, the family communicate entirely through sign-language, a skill they have learnt from Blunt and Krasinski's onscreen daughter being deaf (happily, she is played by Millicent Simmonds, who is legitimately deaf in real life). The family is rounded out by Noah Jupe, who currently sports the best "scared child" face in the business. Understandably, it is put to use frequently here.

The personal conceit, then, comes in the form of Krasinski's character, who spends much of the film's runtime preparing and carrying out rituals and processes designed to keep his family safe. It seems to be an overarching metaphor for paternal protection, finding the will to help one's family to survive, and the fear that one will fail at doing so. 

As director, Krasinski then finds a compelling narrative using just these processes - knitted pieces on a Monopoly board, painted markings to distinguish between creaky and quiet floorboards in the house, even something as simple as the cast being bare-foot for almost the entire film. Each feeds into the father's compulsion for his family's survival.

Thankfully, Krasinski never forgets that he is directing a horror film. Granted, its meditative state is practically novelty amidst a landscape of caricatured villains (Annabelle) and pop-horror hits (It), but Krasinski nonetheless makes the intentions of the film's horror mechanics clear: here be monsters.

Slowly revealed from a shadowy flash to out-of-focus spectres to full-blooded macabre creatures, the monsters are wildly effective. Their most obvious feature - their use of sound as their sole hunting tool - acts as both an escape route should the characters outsmart them, and a death sentence should they fail.

Krasinski wrings every drop of cinematic fun from this excellent core idea whilst exhibiting restraint where needed. The sound design, far from an overwhelming exercise in magnification, only singles out the important spikes in volume when absolutely necessary. Elsewhere, it is deathly quiet, and occasionally silent when we view a sequence from the perspective of Millicent Simmonds' character.

Similarly, his cinematography frames and re-frames action in languid takes, and delivers some genuine terrors using just its shallow depth-of-field. It's remarkable - horror is far from John Krasinski's native tongue, and yet he speaks the language fluently. 

A Quiet Place is out now, distributed by Paramount.

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