It was the opening night of films here at the South By Southwest Conference And Festivals, starting with a horror film that contained one hell of a hook. Actor-director John Krasinski took the stage after seeing his movie open SXSW, and his first tongue-in-cheek words were, “Why did someone make this?”
Krasinski’s affable nature fit the positive reception to his new film. A Quiet Place (Grade: B-) is an entertaining and crowd-pleasing monster movie, one that leaves you wanting more—and once you get over wondering what a subtler and more accomplished director might have done with this material, it’s not hard to let yourself be won over by its charms. It starts off a bit flat-footed, squandering any sense of mystery or dread by delivering an opening sequence that tells you pretty much everything you need to know, even revealing the CGI menace (albeit briefly) in a way that temporarily drains its potential for creeping tension. The movie follows a family that is surviving in the midst of a strange apocalypse that involves keeping near-silent at all times, lest the strange creatures that have appeared everywhere be alerted to anyone’s presence.
Without going into any spoilers, the movie struggles to sustain interest in the first act, as Krasinski lays into some ploddingly obvious beats and grapples unsuccessfully with making the material deeper than it is. But he seems to sense his directorial limits at a certain point, and once the film pivots into what is essentially Jump Scare: The Movie (an almost irresistible tactic for a film that requires every character to be silent 99 percent of the time), he indulges a fun creature-feature mentality toward the material, goosing the audience repeatedly and intentionally bricking some dramatic moments for gallows humor. His filmography behind the camera is uneven at best (his two previous cinematic offerings are Brief Interviews With Hideous Men and The Hollars), but this represents a real step forward. He’s embraced horror-genre tendencies with flair, including a mid-film high point involving water and a baby that’s as good as anything from the most recent Alien films.
The irony of his facility with this material is his self-professed aversion to horror. “I’m a scaredy-cat,” he admitted during a post-screening Q&A, saying the family aspect of the story was what drew him to the material. But he was upstaged by his young co-star, Millicent Simmonds, a deaf actor who delivers a potent performance as Krasinski and Emily Blunt’s daughter. After using an ASL translator to explain how working with Todd Haynes (in Wonderstruck) helped her appreciate working with hearing actors, Simmonds explained that she felt as though he co-stars “really did become my family,” a sentiment for which you’d have to be a right bastard not to applaud.
Still, for the first night of SXSW, this was a simple and entertaining pick, although perhaps not as entertaining as the scene I witnessed right outside the Paramount Theater here in Austin: Michael Bay, who produced the film, showed up for the red carpet, and a guy near me on the sidewalk, who I assumed was like me and simply waiting to cross the street, muttered, “Fuck.” I assumed he just didn’t like Bay, until I looked down and noticed he was holding a framed poster of Armageddon containing the autographs of most of the major actors. God bless you, random weirdo who has worked so hard to acquire the signatures of all the key players in a terrible late-’90s disaster flick.
Tomorrow: Adventures in Silicon Valley and a chance to enter the painstakingly recreated amusement-park vibe of Westworld.