By Eleanor Ringel Cater
Imagine the whole world has been transformed into Anne Frank’s attic where the slightest sound could bring rampaging Nazis. Only, in the crafty and effective “A Quiet Place,” sound doesn’t summon jackboots; it brings nasty spindly-legged killer aliens (think “Alien” meets “Starship Troopers.”).
That’s the world we’re plunged into by director/star John Krasinski who inverts “Silence is Golden” into “Silence is Salvation.”
Something has gone wrong with civilization. We can tell from the first generic “Walking Dead” shot of abandoned cars and deserted streets. Inside an empty grocery littered with dead leaves, an intrepid family treads oh-so-softly, in search of supplies. Just what they are afraid of is as yet unrevealed, but their fear is palpable — a reminder that the best horrors are not seen, but reflected in the terror-stricken faces of their potential victims.
Thanks to a wall of tattered newspaper headlines, we learn that the aforementioned aliens have pretty much decimated humanity. But one discovery has kept a few random survivors afloat: the thingies are attracted to sound. Even the slightest squeak of a floorboard can bring them at the gallop.
Fortunately, the Abbott family —Lee (Krasinski), Evelyn (Emily Blunt, Krasinski’s real-life wife) and their kids (Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe) — have learned the ropes and implemented various ingenious survival strategies.
Their farm is looped with a warning system of color-coded lights. The surrounding paths are covered with sand to further deaden the sound of their footsteps. Nobody grabs crunchy peanut butter in the supermarket.
Also, in an act of reckless stupidity or cockeyed optimism, Lee and Evelyn have chosen to increase the tribe. She is pregnant — very — and we can only wonder what fresh peril a squealing newborn will bring.
This is where “A Quiet Place” gets a little dicey. After striving so mightily to set up its genre rules — one peep and you’re dead meat — the movie fails to honor its own internal logic. Did no one think of blasting non-stop heavy metal out in the cornfields to keep the creatures at bay? Or even just a wind-driven batch of clattering pots and pans?
At the same time, that’s part of what keeps the movie interesting. Krasinski concentrates on family dynamics as much as he does on flesh-ripping monsters. People get their feelings hurt and behave stupidly. Or get into hepped-up heroics — and behave stupidly.
One of the more idiotic repeated motifs is the way the family is always putting their fingers to their lips to hush each other. As if the omnipresent fear of being eaten by drooling aliens isn’t enough of a reminder.
“A Quiet Place” is a movie built around a gimmick, but it’s been jerry-rigged awfully well. And you might notice, with considerable pleasure, how quiet the movie theater is. I guess that’s what happens when everyone leans in…and listens.