John Krasinski (venerable character Jim Halpert from The Office) makes his screenwriting and directorial debut with a sound-based thriller. The year is 2020, and for the past 472 days, the planet has been terrorized by fearsome monsters that hunt completely by sound. The survival of one family, the Abbotts, is linked completely to their ability to adapt to this terrible new reality – staying as quiet as possible, using sign language and non-verbal cues to communicate, and creating silent walking paths through the use of sand and paint (to avoid creaky spots in wooden floors). The clever ‘solutions’ to a normally noisy human world are inventive and make you realize how much the family has changed to survive – they are no strangers to the brutal nature of this harsh new world, having already lost a young child to the ravenous predators that stalk them.
The story is told over three days, all happening after the initial appearance of the ‘attackers’, whose origins are never expanded upon. The film opens on Day 72, highlighting the Abbott family’s search for medicine and supplies in an abandoned pharmacy. All appears to be going smoothly – the scene impresses the viewer that something is not quite right with the world, and the Abbotts take all precautions to avoid making noise. This strategy falters when the youngest Abbott son finds a toy space ship and proceeds to play with it, sound blaring – thus introducing us to the monster they were all trying so hard to avoid. The final two acts of the film occur over two subsequent days, 472 and 473. It has obviously been a painful year since the attack on Day 72, but life finds a way to soldier on. Evelyn (Emily Blunt) is pregnant and expecting soon, while Lee (John Krasinski) spends his time researching how to fight the monsters and reach out to other survivors. He also tries to impress the urgency of survival on the two older children – oldest daughter Ragen and younger son Marcus – but tends to favor Marcus, which strains Ragen’s relationship with her father. When the time comes for Evelyn to deliver her new child, no one is around to assist, and the noise she accidentally makes attracts the wrong kind of attention. The rest of the day is spent trying to survive and protect all that the Abbott family has left – each other.
Sound (or more aptly, the lack of) plays a huge role in the film. The oldest daughter is deaf, and has a non-functioning cochlear implant, something that her father has been laboriously trying to repair with no success. There is a strong feeling of survivor’s guilt that is shared by all living members of the Abbott family, and since there is never really a ‘safe’ time to talk about it, they all assume each other is bearing the burden alone, leading to a strained dynamic. It is a silent, painful agony – a problem you know can be solved if you could just have a good cry, a deep conversation – but the danger of making any sound and the consequences for doing so are too great. The minimal score by Marco Beltrami (Hellboy, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark) and sound design paint a nerve wracking and unsettling world.
Overall, I really enjoyed this movie. I’m not sure how ‘rewatchable’ it is, but the first run through is absolutely terrifying. One of the strongest points of this film was the subtlety and nuance needed to communicate in a silent world. The decision by Krasinski to cast a deaf actress in Millicent Simmonds as daughter Regan made her role and the interactions in sign language between the family seem genuine, which was critical to make the viewer feel connected and invested in seeing the Abbotts survive. The monsters – creepy, scary, and you don’t get a good look until they are far to close for comfort. The set design was creative, the world that the Abbott family surviving in is interesting but sparse on details or explanation. The only background about the monsters that you get is from newspapers and magazine articles that Lee has tacked on a corkboard in his basement command center, along with security cameras and a shortwave radio setup from which he has been searching for survivors across the world to no avail. The plot suffers from a some of weak spots, but this isn’t a film focused on the details – it is the story of a family trying to survive against all odds, and finding strength from what many would consider a weakness. Regan Abbott, the deaf girl in a world where unintentional sound can get you killed, becomes the humanity’s greatest hope. If that isn’t a moment of triumph, I’m not sure what is.
This was a great work from Krasinski and I look forward to his next project – and I will be ever more vigilant about keeping the nails on my stairs flush and free from the foot stabbing anarchy they caused in this film. The whispers are indicating there could be more films set in this quiet universe, possibly including a prequel that could shed more on the attackers. Count me in!
4/5 Gold Squid Rating