There's plenty in the new science-fiction thriller "A Quiet Place" that doesn't hold up to scrutiny and even more that feels conspicuously derivative. But tell that to your pants as you pee them. Director John Krasinski takes a successful turn into horror territory with his third feature, thoughtfully crafted to work your last nerve.
Krasinski and his real-life wife, Emily Blunt, play Lee and Evelyn Abbott, parents to Regan (Millicent Simmonds of "Wonderstruck"), Marcus (Noah Jupe of "Wonder"), and Beau (Cade Woodward). Three months into what amounts to an alien invasion by giant, chittering, spindly blind beasts that hunt by sound, the Abbotts trudge barefoot through upstate New York. The family gathers supplies and inches hopefully away from danger, communicating only in American Sign Language and the lowest of whispers. But accidents will happen, and a year later, the Abbotts are doubly traumatized by what's happened to their world.
The good news: They've established a farmhouse homestead, tricked out with certain defenses and a basement workshop turned command center. The bad news: Evelyn is pregnant and, thus, a ticking time bomb. Screenwriters Bryan Woods and Scott Beck and Krasinski take care to establish some interesting family dynamics, complicated by a weight of guilt and regret. A year on, the kids are more capable of grasping the enormity of their plight, but they're still plenty vulnerable, and still unskilled at compartmentalizing their emotions. Lee stressfully focuses on their protection as Evelyn tends to the children's education, the family's sanity and the life in her belly.
All of this plays out with minimal dialogue and delicate sound -- something that should put popcorn munchers on notice. The pin-drop tension of this much quiet and the mortal threat that comes with making a sound dramatize a life of repression and fear. On a couple of rare occasions, a character gets to sound a barbaric yawp, a rare privilege in the film's new world order. Ultimately, "A Quiet Place" is a survival story, an artsy B-movie that lives on the precipice of silly.
Then, too, there's the uncomfortable recognition that a lawsuit is almost certainly about to drop over the distinct similarities between the screenplay and Tim Lebbon's novel "The Silence" (recently filmed but not yet released) and, before you even get there, some obvious comparisons to M. Night Shyamalan's "Signs" and TV's "The Walking Dead." But in the moment of the movie, these thoughts recede as quickly as they arrive. Krasinski keeps the narrative tight and involving, played on the actors' enormously expressive faces (none more so than the director's own). In getting the job done as a high-tension family fright film, "A Quiet Place" doesn't tiptoe.