John Krasinski gets it. With his third directorial outing, the high-concept horror film “A Quiet Place,” the actor and filmmaker has gotten about as far away from his previous films – including an ambitious but flawed David Foster Wallace adaptation and a feel-good family dramedy seemingly made to debut at Sundance – as creatively possible.
That wasn’t entirely by design, though, because Krasinski did not enter the genre space as a way of acting out some childhood dream. Krasinski didn’t even like horror movies as a kid, shoring it up to the eight-year-old who still lives inside of him, terrified of seeing anything scary on the big screen.
“I am among the large group of people who would look at my name and by like, ‘What? That guy is going to do a horror movie?’,” Krasinski said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “But what I realized was that I could direct a great scary movie if I had another way in.”
For Krasinski, that way in was a clever concept, one cooked up by indie screenwriters Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, who had been noodling with the idea of a near-silent horror movie for years.
“A Quiet Place” takes place in the distant future, after an alien invasion has seemingly wiped out much of the human population. Those who have survived – like the film’s central family, which includes both Krasinski and his real-life wife Emily Blunt, alongside young actors Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe – have only done so after learning the hard way that the monsters use their hearing to track their prey. The only way to live: stay quiet.
Krasinski was initially approached to only star in the film, and when the team at Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes tried to gauge his interest in making the jump to genre, he proved to be a bit of a tough sell. He just wasn’t into it.
“And then they said, ‘Well, what if it was a cool idea? It’s a movie about a family that has to be quiet and you have to figure out why,'” he said. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a pretty damn good one-liner.’ And when I read the script the idea was even better.”
For Blunt, “it’s a really ambitious idea and he was drawn to that,” she said. “It’s super unique idea, and he wanted that sort of challenge.”
Krasinski wasn’t just in the market for a challenge, he was in the market for a change. His first two films, “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men” and “The Hollars,” both debuted at Sundance (in 2009 and 2016, respectively), where each was picked up for distribution by lauded indie outfits. Neither made much of a mark at the box office.
When IFC Films released “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men,” based on a short story collection by Wallace, it landed with a thud. Despite a cast packed with indie names – including Julianne Nicholson, Chris Messina, Will Arnett, Will Forte, Bobby Canavale, Rashida Jones, Christopher Meloni, and Krasinski himself (smack in the middle of his run on hit show “The Office”) – the film made less than $35,000 at the box office.
Seven years later, “The Hollars” didn’t make much of a dent either. Sony Pictures Classics picked it up before it even premiered, and it was met with mixed reviews at the festival. Released later that year – and with its own starry cast, including Richard Jenkins, Margo Martindale, and Anna Kendrick – it grossed just over $1 million at the box office.
After “The Hollars,” Krasinkski admitted he wasn’t looking for – or expecting to make – a studio film of any stripe, let alone a genre film. Besides, his acting career was continuing to pick up speed, including roles in such varied films as “13 Hours” and “Detroit,” plus a demanding role starring as the eponymous hero in Amazon’s “Jack Ryan” series.
“‘The Hollars’ was about something I could connect to, I could sort of argue that I made that for my mom, and this movie was for my kids,” he said. “What I connected to was this idea of family, so more than the scary movie, this idea of, what would you really do for your kids? I mean really do.”
Three weeks before he read the script, Blunt and Krasinski’s second daughter was born, and the message about the importance of family that Beck and Woods had crafted inside their ambitious horror script hit him. “Listen, I cry at everything, but I was a wide open vessel, I was a raw nerve and I was definitely in the place where this hit me right between the eyes,” he said.
Krasinski quickly signed on to direct the film, in addition to starring it and rewriting it (he, Beck, and Woods are all credited as screenwriters on the feature). Blunt was soon cast as his on-screen wife. Every part of the experience proved to be unexpected to the filmmaker – not just the genre or the material or even that Krasinski was finally getting into the studio world, but the actual creative process, too.
“I will say, because it may not ever happen again and it certainly hadn’t happened before, I had never seen what I was going to do so clearly,” he said. “I had always read about the directors that could do that, but I had never done that. This time, frame for frame, I saw it. I couldn’t rewrite the script fast enough.”
Despite his childhood fear of horror movies, Krasinski had seen a few of the classics, and both he and Blunt pointed to films like “Jaws” and “Alien” as inspiration for the kind of feature they hoped to make.
“I wanted this movie to feel like it hearkened back to a more classic vibe, those were the movies I had seen, ‘Jaws’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘Alien,’ which are terrifying, but in a different way,” he said. (He’s boned up on other horror films in the interim, and pointed to recent entries like “Let the Right One In,” “The Babadook,” “The Witch,” and “Get Out” as new favorites.)
Despite their classic inspirations, the film comes with a timely edge, too.
“We’re in a kind of fragile world right now, and I think people are identifying with that metaphor of parenthood,” Blunt said. “We had not prepared for that. It is becoming quite a conversation-starter, which we didn’t expect for a horror film. It’s a genre with endless possibilities, which is also why it’s having this sort of rebirth.”
The genre also freed Krasinski up to explore new storytelling techniques. “A Quiet Place” is light on backstory. This is not a film that opens with reels of news footage zinging by as a way to introduce the current state of the world; it’s one drops you into the crisis, weeks after it has first unfolded.
“We patronize audiences all the time, just to give someone a backstory, just to make sure everything’s clear,” Blunt said. “I think all of the other stuff, the details and when they invaded, what happened, who’s dead, who’s not, it’s all sort of white noise. John wanted to create a world where people went in and are trusted with their own intelligence, that they are going to figure out what’s going on.”
Krasinski was clear he didn’t want to spoon-feed his audience, but he also saw it as a way to more closely connect viewers with the central family, one that they can’t even hear for the film’s first act. “I didn’t want to the audience to have any more information than the family,” he said. “The family hadn’t figured out what the hell was going on, so I thought it would connect you more to the family subconsciously.”
Early audiences have connected with the film in a big way, and it was met with near-universal acclaim when it premiered at SXSW in March. That good buzz seems to be continuing, and “A Quiet Place” is currently Krasinski’s only directorial effort to have snagged a Fresh rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. It’s certainly a big twist in his filmmaking trajectory.
“What I learned most from watching all these horror movies was how ignorant I was to not have seen them. Here I am, making a decision as a little kid, being like, ‘It’s too scary.’ I don’t know if you want to trust your eight-year-old self with a lot of life decisions, but I did,” he said. “I’m late to the horror party, but man, am I happy to be here.”
“A Quiet Place” opens theatrically on Friday, April 6.