A bronze-faced and abundantly pregnant mother pulls her gray cable-knit cardigan tightly around her flowered dress as she casually leans back on a barrel of hay in a rustic barn. She tucks her bare feet beneath her, adjusting the fresh linens resting atop the hay, the afternoon light framing her face. Her fair hair is pulled back in a soft braid, but a few soft wisps escape as she bends down to offer gentle guidance to her son. He is contemplating his math homework. His dark, curly hair spills over his furrowed brow as he concentrates, and his pressed blue and red plaid collared shirt peeks ever-so-slightly above his bright red sweater as he turns to gaze up and smile at his mother in their makeshift classroom.

Did I lift this almost laughingly bucolic scene from the pages of L.L. Bean’s most recent fall catalog, you ask? Or perhaps straight from a handbook titled Idyllic Homeschooling? Surprisingly enough, no—it’s actually a glimpse into the unexpectedly hypnotizing scary movie, A Quiet Place, John Krasinski’s impressively effective horror debut.

The film opens as mom and dad (real life refreshingly adorable couple Krasinski and Emily Blunt) are struggling to raise a family of three in the near future (2020!), when an unexplained alien invasion has left the world marred in its post-apocalyptic wake. We quickly learn that silence is the key to evading the creatures from outer space, but unfortunately, this lesson isn’t grasped soon enough by the family’s youngest boy, who is taken before their eyes.

Devastated but determined, the clan hunkers down in their “quiet place” in the countryside, complete with a well-stocked cellar of canned goods, fields of neatly-rowed corn, and strings of white lights lining the yard. We meet them again almost a year after the boy’s death, and while each family member is still coping with the loss of the youngest as best they can, mom is pregnant again, and ready to deliver. But as you can imagine, running a farm with small children—including a deaf daughter—in silence isn’t easy, and the family’s noisy slipups earn the audience glimpses of the creatures they are trying so hard to avoid. We soon find ourselves straining in the silence along with the characters, wondering whether they will make it out alive.

On its surface, the film succeeds with some pretty effective jump scares and prolonged moments of cringing anticipation. And yes, when you stop and think about it, it’s not impossible to do when you’re working with a script that essentially takes any other horror film’s hushed moment of hiding from a villain in a closet, and prolongs it for an entire full-length feature.

But when we peel back the layers, we find a deeper, more insidious terror at the heart of the film. Right at the point when we find ourselves mesmerized by the family’s picturesque country lifestyle, we are reminded of the terror they face every day. They smother every possible path with sand to muffle their footsteps, and mark their floorboards where it’s squeaklessly safe to step. They communicate with sign language, eat without utensils, and silence their pain and frustration, even in the most extreme of circumstances. In the end, the Biblical beauty of their surroundings makes each loud noise, each panicked, searching stare that much more terrifying. Plus, far from a silent film in actuality, A Quiet Place plays masterfully with sound, contrasting moments of soft, muffled background noise with the truly silent perspective of the deaf daughter, and selectively weaving in a musical score for emotional effect.

But for all its creativity, the film does end up being a bit too formulaic at times. Plot-wise, A Quiet Place flirts with M. Night Shyamalan-style mistakes, flying all too close to the cheesy, folkloric sun, and searching a bit too hard for that problem-solving twist that ignores some pretty basic science. The monster itself, although terrifying in the abstract, is too CGIed up for this fan of the recent return to the touchable terror of caked-on-makeup we’ve seen from directors like James Wan. And although I understand the importance of getting us invested in the characters’ backstories and setting the arcadian scene, Krasinski really could have picked up the pace. Nevertheless, I’ll give him a break in his first foray into terror.

SpecialK Verdict: A solid horror debut from everyone’s favorite office goofball, A Quiet Place doesn’t quite knock it out of the park, but it does gently guide its audience through a storyline that rises and falls like a lilting melody accented with unexpectedly terrifying scares. Definitely worth seeing.

A Quiet Place opens Friday, April 6.

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