Lee (John Krasinski) and Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt) spend their days foraging for supplies in a ghost town that was once a thriving community. In just three months, deadly otherworldly predators reduced the entire planet to a smattering of spirited survivors. Little remains of the normal life that the couple and their young children once knew. In its place is a surreal existence dominated by ever-lurking enemies eager for a quick meal.
The creatures stalk their prey using only their acute sense of hearing. The smallest sound is all that they need to home in on their target, even from a distance. The only proven way to avoid the invaders is to remain steadfastly silent. Lee and his family have one advantage over most: they’re all fluent in sign language as a result of their daughter (Millicent Simmonds) being deaf. In fact, it may even be the main reason that they’ve survived for as long as they have.
Each passing day brings new challenges in the family’s fight to endure and to reach their ultimate goal to carry on as normally as possible.
One thing that’s sure to gain a critic’s attention is novelty. This creative and often intense film serves up captivating novelty through surprising, deafening silence. The ingenious part of the experience is in how the film naturally connects the audience to the plight of its main protagonists. The necessity of the characters to remain so muted creates an atmosphere that challenges the viewer to do the same. Every seat shimmy, every crackling popcorn bag, every cough reverberates through the theater, drawing unwanted attention to its creator. In a very real sense, we become the prey of the film itself. Its flawless direction also solidifies Krasinski as a director with unmistakable talent. The days of thinking of him as little more than the beloved but simple Jim from the TV series The Office or, worse, Mr. Emily Blunt are over. Krasinski makes the very most of every aspect of the material, including pairing it with a hauntingly simple, highly immersive score.
The story reminded me most of the campy 1971 sci-fi thriller The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston. It’s another story of a character trapped in a post-apocalyptic world and an enemy determined to hunt any survivors to extinction. This is a much better take on that concept. For starters, the acting is anything but campy. Every role is perfectly executed from Krasinski’s guy-next-door everyman to the undeniable adorableness of the Abbotts’ youngest child Beau (Cade Woodward).
The one nagging flaw in the film is the story itself. Nearly every single tense moment beyond the opening scene depends entirely on plot contrivances that just don’t ring true. Lovers of the film (of which there will be many) will just set aside the obvious major question marks. One of the biggest revolves around the same issue that I had with World War Z. The story makes it clear that the slightest sound risks instant death, but when the predators make unnatural noise, it doesn’t raise the awareness of any others. There are ways to explain that, but then the film’s final scene pretty much destroys any plausible explanation. It also makes clear that the Abbott family is intent on survival at all costs. They’ve gone to exceptional lengths to assure that every precaution is taken against unwanted noise. They soften their footsteps, eat on tables covered with blankets and avoid any unknown paths, but then they inexplicably welcome into their world a completely chaotic plot device. It just doesn’t wash. There’s also a bit involving a shotgun that stands in stark contrast to everything that we’ve been told.
As I always do, I had trouble setting aside the blemishes. Regardless of their existence, it’s still an exceptionally effective thriller. It taps into the deepest, darkest corner of our instincts to find fear where there’s little more than silence — a cold, creeping, heartless, deadly silence.