- - Thursday, April 12, 2018

“A Quiet Place” is an oddity for a No. 1 box office attraction — a family-focused horror movie that has no profanity, nudity, sex, gore or R rating and offers a subtle pro-life message.

Directed, co-written and co-produced by John Krasinski (Jim from the NBC sitcom “The Office”), the $17 million, PG-13 production rocked Hollywood last weekend with its $50 million box office haul — and could crack the $100 million mark this weekend, Forbes.com predicts.

Its lack of the violent and sexual content so common in the horror genre reflects and enhances the movie’s themes of family unity, forbearance and sacrifice.

“A Quiet Place” stars Mr. Krasinski and real-life wife Emily Blunt as the parents of a deaf teenage girl and her younger brother who are isolated on a farm amid an invasion of blind, slaughterous aliens that attack sound at its source. To survive, the family must remain ever quiet, using sign language to communicate as they walk barefoot on paths of sand and ash around the farm.

“It’s not gory. It’s not graphic. It’s a compact 90 minutes,” said REELZ film critic Leonard Maltin. “It is so relatable at every level … you feel what they’re feeling. Even the contrivance device of a deaf daughter and the need for the family to know sign language is another point of entry.”

Mr. Maltin said the PG-13 rating has helped the film at the box office by allowing a wider (read, younger) set of moviegoers to view it. Good buzz apparently did the rest.

“All movie successes are based on word-of-mouth … more than ever in this era of instant communication,” he said.

A film historian, Mr. Maltin said he had heard curious reactions to “A Quiet Place” since its release last week.

“Normally, I don’t see horror films,” he said. “This one’s different.”

Survival for its own sake has long been a primary motivator in the horror genre, requiring the depiction of frantic chases and narrow escapes as bodies — and body parts — pile up on screen. If teenagers are involved, a titillating dose of naked flesh and needless sex often is added to the mix.

“A Quiet Place” takes the survival trope and gives it a reason — the future of the family. Miss Blunt’s character is pregnant through most of the film’s first two acts, and the family prepares for a birth, not an abortion, in the silence of their survival.

Her character also utters the film’s key line, a parents’ rallying cry for their children delivered in a whisper: “Who are we, if we can’t protect them?” That parents will do anything for their offspring is evinced in a moment of sacrifice.

Karie Bible, box office analyst for Exhibitor Relations, said the film’s visual restraint might be its signature achievement.

“What you don’t see, your mind can fill in,” she said. Ms. Bible cited the restraint of such classics as Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 “Psycho” and the 1931 German shocker “M” starring Peter Lorre as a serial child killer. That film’s visual of a missing girl’s floating balloon has given generations the creeps.

It also helps that horror is having a moment. Last year’s “Get Out” proved the year’s biggest sleeper hit, with a $176 million haul. Director M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split” similarly shattered expectations ($138 million), while Stephen King’s “It” dominated the fall 2017 box office ($327 million).

Daniel Loria, editorial director at BoxOffice Media, said films with a family theme can thrive beyond the country’s borders.

Take “Coco,” the 2017 Pixar smash steeped in Mexican culture. Its family-centric story helped it earn $209 million domestically and $580 internationally.

Some movies awkwardly inject a message into the narrative in hopes to broaden the story’s appeal. “A Quiet Place” does so without sacrificing anything vital to its success, Mr. Loria said.

“[The family angle] really is part of the story. You know what the stakes are early,” he said.

The recent megasuccess of Marvel’s “Black Panther” might have helped bring the video-streaming masses to the cineplex. Mr. Loria cited the old saw that “a rising tide lifts all boats” to say that going to the movies has become cool again, particularly with fresh fare like “Black Panther” and “A Quiet Place” in theaters.

Horror also can tap into the zeitgeist in less than obvious ways. Given the tumultuous headlines of late, seeing a nuclear family bond over a common threat may be the cinematic catnip we need, Mr. Loria said.

“Genre movies can speak to fears and the subtext of the specific times,” he said.

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