For nine seasons on the NBC sitcom “The Office,” John Krasinski won viewers’ hearts by imbuing the character Jim Halpert with a slow-burning comic exasperation and Everyman empathy. In the five years since that series ended, he seemed to have a hard time finding his footing in the entertainment landscape, shifting into character-actor action-hero mode as one of the tragically killed soldiers in the tepidly received film “13 Hours” and directing an indie film called “The Hollars” to solid reviews but nonexistent box office.
Yet Krasinski came roaring back last weekend, taking Hollywood by total surprise with the smash-hit $50 million debut of the horror thriller “A Quiet Place,” which he not only stars in with his wife Emily Blunt, but also co-wrote and directed. With a 98 percent approval rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes and a B+ rating from audiences in the Cinemascore survey, it’s a crowd-pleaser for all the right reasons: it’s universally relatable yet something we’ve never seen (or more aptly, heard) before.
The film is set after an unspecified apocalypse in the near future in which horrific alien beasties have rampaged across the planet, eating nearly every human imaginable. Amid the few survivors are the Abbotts, a family of five (father Lee, mother Evelyn, daughter Regan, sons Marcus and Beau) who soon become a family of four when Beau is unexpectedly killed while on a family walk through the woods near their remote family compound.
Jumping ahead more than a year from that tragic day, the film reveals that Evelyn (Blunt) is pregnant again while the Abbotts all continue to mourn the loss of Beau (Cade Woodward). They are continuing their tenuous existence, in which they can never risk to make a loud sound for fear that the beasts — which are blind but have horrifically large ears — will find and kill them with the slightest hint of noise.
Krasinski expertly establishes the environment the Abbotts have to live in, with Lee (Krasinski) having to create sand trails for the family to tread on anywhere they go and the creation of an underground soundproof bunker they can all safely hide in and eventually harbor their new baby. The combination of constant fear, layered with communication in whispers , sign language and looks, has the riveting effect of making viewers behave in incredibly quiet fashion as well.
Things go haywire when Lee and Marcus head to a river to fish, Regan sneaks out of the house to find them and Evelyn finds herself unexpectedly alone when her water suddenly breaks, inducing labor. From there on out, Krasinski and his co-writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods manage to jump among all three dangerous scenarios as the family members have to fight for survival in different places if they are ever going to find themselves together again.
“A Quiet Place” is one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had watching a movie, and is already being heralded by many critics as a genre-redefining classic. The near-silence is punctuated mostly by the awful clicking and screeching sounds of the aliens in attack, forcing audience members to lean in and focus on the edge of their seats while jolting them with shocking bursts of violence .
Yet despite its intense scares and often unbearable suspense, Krasinski has managed to craft a film that is remarkably tasteful and emotionally resonant. With just four characters to follow and a mostly claustrophobic setting, he relies on the heart of the situations — the film ultimately plays as a harrowing portrayal of the basic need to protect one’s family members at all costs — as much as the scares required to make a film that is utterly unforgettable.
Blunt has been a slowly rising star for a decade, ever since her breakout supporting turn as Meryl Streep’s harried assistant in the 2006 comedy “The Devil Wears Prada,” and will likely vault to superstardom this Christmas when she takes over the iconic role of Mary Poppins from Julie Andrews in “Mary Poppins Returns.” But she’s already proven to be an extremely versatile talent, both as an action-hero badass in “Edge of Tomorrow” and “Sicario” and mastering emotional devastation as a depressed alcoholic in “The Girl on the Train.”
When you see her endure unexpected childbirth in total silence while hiding from an alien that wants to slaughter her and her newborn child, it’ll be hard to imagine any actress topping her performance this year. And as a new standard-bearing classic in the horror genre, it’s quite likely that Krasinski and his film will be up for Oscars as well next spring.