Film review: A Quiet Place (15), 8/10
Silence is golden - and imperative for survival - in John Krasinski's nerve-shredding horror thriller about a family battling against sightless otherworldly creatures, which hunt by sound.
A single sneeze or cough could be fatal, and the lean, propulsive script co-written by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and Krasinski takes sadistic delight in prickling our discomfort till we're ready to scream on the characters' behalf.
In the opening hour, A Quiet Place is a masterclass in old-fashioned scares and suspense including a horrific scene with a nail protruding from a wooden basement staircase, which begs to be glimpsed through trembling fingers.
The gasp-inducing pay-off is telegraphed in advance and Krasinski confidently tightens the screw with slickly engineered set pieces, which punctuate the heart-rending human drama. In the absence of dialogue, the film relies on beautifully calibrated gestures to convey emotion.
Krasinski's real-life wife Emily Blunt delivers a powerhouse performance as a mother hen, who is dedicated to preparing her children for a bleak future without her guiding influence.
She gels magnificently with expressive young co-stars Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe, who milk every tear and shudder of anguish from their characters' nightmarish predicament.
Eighty-nine days after first contact with the monsters, resourceful father Lee Abbott (Krasinski), his wife Evelyn (Blunt), deaf daughter Regan (Simmonds), eldest son Marcus (Jupe) and four-year-old Beau (Cade Woodward) have adapted to the omnipresent threat.
The family communicates via sign language and silently scours for provisions in abandoned stores, treading carefully on paths of sand to dampen the gentle thud of bare feet.
Alas, the electronic beeps from a battery-powered space shuttle toy prove little Beau's downfall.
More than a year later, the Abbotts regroup in grief under the eaves of an old farmhouse.
Evelyn is heavily pregnant and a newborn baby's cries could draw the hunters to their provision-stocked hiding place unless they can sound-proof the basement.
Time is of the essence and Lee actively involves Regan and Marcus in preparing escape routes and diversion tactics.
Despite these best laid plans, Evelyn fears her brood will lose the deadly game of hide and seek.
'Who are we if we can't protect them?' she tearfully pleads with her spouse.
A Quiet Place bides its time, relishing nervous calms before the storm of sickening violence that consumes the final act.
Tense sequences in a grain silo and a water-logged nursery draw favourable comparisons with the Jurassic Park and Alien franchises.
The script's logic frays in places - it's unlikely a mattress would keep the beasties at bay and the Abbotts' newborn conveniently slumbers through some of the tensest exchanges without a single giveaway gurgle.
However, it's impossible not to be held in a vice-like grip by the family's white-knuckle ordeal.
Don't speak, don't breathe, and pray. Silently.