Complete silence is a difficult thing for humans and in a film, too much of it often kills the momentum. Typically it is used for brief moments or single scenes to put the audience or characters on edge, but A Quiet Place chooses to tell large chunks of its story with silence and expertly uses sound or lack thereof to ratchet up the tension. In many ways it feels like a silent film, using background images and newspaper headlines to provide context to its world. The characters use sign language, which calls for more exaggerated facial expressions and gestures. Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen uses dramatic camera angles and shots that are sometimes gorgeous and terrifying at the same time. In a world where monsters hunt down anything that makes a noise, the film uses sound itself as another monster, one that affects not only the actors but also reaches out to grab the viewer.

A Quiet Place shies away from giving much background about where the monsters came from or how society fell apart. Instead, it chooses to focus on the events of one family’s struggle to survive. The film opens with no sound except what the actors make as they move around the set and it holds this for the first several minutes of the film. It gives a brief background about the monster’s appearance and abilities from the papers and notes written on the walls and we can see that there is little left of humanity and civilization from the excursions the family takes to the outside world. The film sets the stakes high from the beginning with its first kill and continues to raise them with every reveal about its characters.

After the harsh opening, A Quiet Place explores the effects such an experience would have on both the family bond and its members. Regan (Millicent Simmonds), the young teen daughter, is deaf and much of the inborn drama comes from her father Lee’s (John Krasinski) attempts to keep her safe. His grief over past losses and fear for his children manifests in different attitudes toward their safety and his perception of their abilities. He unknowingly pushes his daughter away and she struggles to understand before pushing back in a dangerous outburst of rebellion. This crack in the family allows peril to seep in as the biggest component of group survival is cooperation. The film sets up a series of these kinds of delicate situations, another one being Evelyn’s (Emily Blunt) pregnancy and then tips all the dominoes over at once for its final nail-biting climax.

The cast of A Quiet Place numbers only 7, necessitating great skill and chemistry between the actors and thankfully they pull it off. Emily Blunt is outstanding, she gives a nuanced performance of a woman who is pushed to her breaking point but will never give up. This is only Simmonds’s second role, but she seems the consummate professional in this as she portrays a deaf girl, who also happens to be a teenager chafing at the difficult restrictions of her life while living under constant threat. Krasinski rises to the challenge of playing the dedicated father who must provide the illusion of safety in a world of danger and he portrays that desperation and false confidence with surprising skill.

A Quiet Place is deceptively simple, with a straightforward horror premise. It is the depths the film goes to in its exploration of just how difficult this life would be that make it more than its gimmick suggests. It has plenty of jump scares of course, and they are mostly used to great effect. But the real scare factor comes from the films refusal to hide the challenges its characters face, it’s perfectly clear how vulnerable these people are to the lurking menace. The question is really which one of these weaknesses will bring calamity down on them all. As we come to understand more about the delicate balance in which they all live, the dread of what could happen continues to ramp up. In focusing on the difficulty of survival in a world without civilization as well as an outside force that is always hunting, the film sidesteps many of the predictable tropes that bring down other horror films.

A Quiet Place is a skillfully made film that examines the true reality of such an apocalyptic situation and the hard work that survival would entail. Its heroes are not badass warriors, merely people doing their best to stay alive in a difficult world. A Quiet Place is a taut and suspenseful thriller that will leave its viewers breathless when the credits roll.