Sometimes, the most successful movies begin not with a plot, or a character or even a setting. They begin with a concept.
For example, let’s imagine a world in which strange murderous creatures have taken over the Earth. But these aren’t just ordinary creatures. They’re giant, praying-mantis-type monsters who are blind and who hunt by sound. And their main prey is humankind.
Before anyone can figure this out, most humans have been slaughtered. But not all. Those who can stay quiet have a chance. And that is what the Abbott family has done. They’ve rigged up their farm, and their very existence, as a quiet place.
In fact, that’s the name of John Krasinski’s film, “A Quiet Place,” and that’s its basic concept: a family trying to survive by doing what hardly any other movie has ever done since talkies were invented – remaining silent.
We meet the Abbotts, father Lee (played by Krasinski), mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt), daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and sons Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward) as they scrounge a deserted town. They communicate through signing (which suits Regan well enough because she is deaf) and the occasional whisper. They walk barefoot on powdered paths that help deflect the noise of their footsteps.
In fact, they are so quiet that when their world is suddenly shattered by sound it is almost as jarring as the tragedy that follows. And that tragedy is what marks the course of Krasinski’s film from then on.
A year later, the Abbotts have recovered, mostly, and Evelyn is even expecting another child. But the threat is still there, and growing, as the declining nightly bonfires by the few other survivors indicate. At the same time, the threat inside the family is growing, too, as Lee – racked with his own sense of guilt – chooses to train Marcus to forage and to ignore Regan, who is clearly the more capable. Something is bound to give because things cannot remain the same.
This is Krasinski’s third film, moving him past his actorly status as the smart charmer he played on the sitcom “The Office.” And his strength shows here in his ability to nurture a concept into a living, breathing movie, shepherding not just a talented cast through what must have been a difficult shoot but skillfully developing the movie’s underlying concept through visual clues.
We never learn, for example, exactly who the creatures are or from where they came. But we pick up information from a random newspaper headline, a notice posted on a wall and even the unspoken use of a baby-sized oxygen mask. And it’s enough, just as long as you ignore the more obvious implausibilities.
Which is easy enough to do because Krasinski has enough self-assurance to make “A Quiet Place” into a movie you want to believe. And while he and young Jupe are solid enough, the movie’s heart belongs to Blunt and Simmonds, both of whom seem able to play Shakespeare merely with their eyes.
Maybe that should be Krasinski’s next film: “All’s Well That Ends Well” done by mimes.