Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 30 min.
Our content ratings (0-5): Violence ; Language ; Sex/Nudity .
Our star rating (1-5): 4
Be still, and know that I am God!
The Psalmist tells his fellow Jews to shut up, so they can become aware of the presence of God, a lesson that Elijah had to learn in the wilderness when he could not discern the Creator amidst the noisy powers of nature. In this film a family has learned to “be still” just to survive in a world that seems to be devoid of God. Horror genre fans will be grateful to actor/director John Krasinski and co-writers Bryan Woods and Scott Beck for giving us a top-notch film guaranteed to hold viewers in suspense from beginning to end.
The filmmakers wisely make this primarily a film about parents trying to raise and teach their children amidst the horror threatening their very survival. A title card tells us it’s “Day 89,” but gives no further details as to what the origin of the monstrous creatures is. It must not be an invasion, as there seems to be no spaceships around, nor do the carnivorous creatures carry any weapons or paraphernalia when they strike. They are blind bipods whose heads contain a huge ear capable of picking up the slightest sound, even of a whisper. Hence our humans go about, indoors and out, barefooted.
Lee Abbott (Krasinski) and his wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt) live in upstate New York on a farm with their three children, youngest son Beau (Cade Woodward), his brother Marcus (Noah Jupe), and sister Regan (Millicent Simmonds). The Abbotts have probably survived longer than their unfortunate neighbors because Reagan is deaf, and so the family has long been communicating in sign language. We first see them foraging in the near-by town’s ruined grocery store where Evelyn finds some medicine for Marcus. Little Beau picks up a battery-operated toy space shuttle, which Lee takes away from him, signing, “It’s too loud.” Unknown to him Reagan, seeing his disappointment, gives it back to him after removing its batteries. Unknown to her, the child grabs up the batteries and, on the way home as they cross a bridge, replaces them in the toy, which creates quite a racket in the still woods. Before the family can snatch him to safety, a monster attacks him and escapes into the woods, leaving Reagan with a terrible case of guilt.
The parents manage the best they can to maintain their lifestyle. They have a jerry-rigged light system, a cellar full of canned vegetables, and we see at last, a gun or two for protection. (I had wondered why they went into town without one!) Their life is about to become more complicated because, as the days pass into more than a year after the arrival of whatever brought the monsters, Evelyn is pregnant, making us wonder how in the world they are to maintain their silence, given birth pangs and the crying of a new-born baby. There is one interlude in which they do talk: they visit a waterfall to bathe, and beneath the falling water their voices are absorbed by the louder sound of the falling water.
Fortunately, Lee keeps experimenting in the basement, both in trying to connect by radio with other survivors and in fashioning a hearing aid for Regan. It will be the latter which brings succor, though not before several harrowing confrontations with the monsters, one that ends with the sacrificial death of one of the loving parents. This is a horror film that for once features intelligent adults and children rather than a group of teenagers whose sin or stupidity bring on their demise. Actress Millicent Simmonds (Regan), who also graced last year’s Wonderstruck, is actually deaf. Let’s hope we see her again soon.
Given the fondness of teenagers for the horror genre, this film might be used for a discussion about the family with a youth group, its rating being just short of “R.”
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the May issue of Visual Parables.