A Quiet Place is a scary movie. Set in a near future, it tells the story of a family that has survived an invasion of blind creatures with hyper hearing, a trait that makes it all the easier for them to hunt their prey: humans. Moreover, it tells the story of a family struggling to survive after tragedies global and personal. It is unclear which is more frightening to confront.
Horror films are known for their ability to put audiences in touch with their most base fears by asking questions of humans in extraordinary situations. A Quiet Place does this precisely: how do you show love when you cannot speak?
This love is evident throughout the film and likely stems from the care put into the production. The film industry is grappling with issues of inclusion. From Me Too to Time’s Up to #OscarsSoWhite, audiences are not seeing themselves reflected on-screen. Each of these movements looks also to the other side of the camera and calls for a level of inclusion that is better representative of our lived worlds.
Behind the camera, A Quiet Place stacks up. The cinematographer is a woman. This film was released one year after the American Society of Cinematographers gave its president’s award to a woman for the first time and just one month after the first ever nomination for a woman in the Best Cinematography category at the Academy Awards. This is an impressive feat, especially in horror, a genre traditionally dominated by men—even more so than the rest of the industry is. Charlotte Bruus Christensen creates an ambiance that is both intimate and fearsome. We see the family’s love as well as the emotional distance between members despite their proximity. The layout of the family land is almost alienating in its layout in this world, and the effect underscores the meaning of the film: physical closeness does not translate to emotional. There are distances that cannot be traversed simply because of convenience.
What will stand out most to audiences, of course, is what is happening in front of the camera. When director John Krasinski was casting A Quiet Place, which is centered around sound, he made casting a deaf actor to play a deaf character non-negotiable. Millicent Simmonds plays Regan Abbott with intensity and beauty; her desperation for validation throughout the film is not contingent upon her hearing or not hearing. She merely exists as a teenaged girl in this world; her deafness is, for the most part, not the plot’s focus. Like any person, deaf or hearing, in the real world, she is confronting much larger issues.
We have seen reactions to white actors playing characters originally written as people of color, but this is different. When folks talk about diversity, without thinking too hard, we first think of colors, making sure that every ethnicity is shown, perhaps even at the risk of tokenism. After that, we look at sex, asking if women are represented and, beyond that, if there are enough. But ability is rarely included in the conversation, perhaps because it is a state of being that can hide itself. Ability is just as much an intrinsic part of identity as anything else. Krasinski’s willingness to cast an actress for whom special accommodations would have to be made speaks to his willingness to innovate as a director. Moreover, he listened to Simmonds’ suggestions for her character and dialogue. This is how to include in ways that matter. Any film lives for generations to come, being watched and rewatched. So, too, will this model. Rather than waiting for someone to explicitly call for ability-centric progress, Krasinski moved forward.
“The things that make us different, those are our superpowers,” said Lena Waithe in her Emmy acceptance speech. The queer actress and writer celebrated difference long before A Quiet Place was released, and this film responds almost directly to that call. Without spoiling any plot point, the film allows Regan to seek acceptance within her family, not because of her disability but because of her actions. This is an important distinction: she is struggling with choices she has made and not with her state of being. This is the kind of inclusion and diversity for which audiences have been calling for for decades, and Krasinski exceeds expectations on his first horror. It almost seems as if this film were responding directly to Waithe: whereas Regan’s inability to hear puts her at a serious disadvantage in a world where making a sound imperils, in the end, her need for a hearing aid saves lives.
There is much more to talk about in A Quiet Place, including family dynamics, survivalism and preppers, emotional distance, and the modern inability to emote (not to mention clever sound design). The film includes all of these while quietly (of course) breaking new ground in spaces of inclusion and representation on both sides of the camera. It is just one of A Quiet Place’s superpowers.