Lauren Emily Whalen’s writing has appeared in Playboy, BUST and SELF magazines, as well as various other print and digital publications. She writes erotic serial fiction for Bellesa.co (as Lauren Emily) and is the author of the young adult novel SATELLITE (World Castle Publishing, 2017). Check her out at laurenemilywrites.com.
This post contains spoilers for A Quiet Place.
Ask anyone who’s seen the trailer for A Quiet Place what the movie’s about, and they’ll likely respond using some variation of these words: “silence” and “monsters.” Ask anyone who’s actually seen the film, and the response might be different.
For me, sitting in Landmark Century Centre Cinema just blocks from my Chicago home, A Quiet Place was indeed about silence and monsters. It was also about pill bottles, toy rocket ships, tiny gas masks and the talismans that make up a family.
The first of many tense, yet deeply emotional, moments in the film occurs in its prologue. A town is devastated by sharp-eared creatures and abandoned by its residents. A family breaks into a drugstore, tiptoeing on bare feet. Evelyn (Emily Blunt) holds her breath as she picks through abandoned but still-full prescription bottles, her sick son at her feet. Meanwhile, daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) tries to entertain her littlest brother, Beau (Cade Woodward). Picking up a toy rocket ship, he signs to avoid noise and says: “I’m going to get us out of here.” She smiles indulgently, knowing he won’t, and she’s right. Just like the racks of potato chips no one’s plundered (no noise, remember?), tragedy is just around the corner.
For the Abbott family, everything’s heightened yet refreshingly mundane. Their lives are constantly at stake, but like any family they have rituals and the accompanying accessories — always with a twist to accommodate their circumstances. They play board games, using fabric appliques so as not to make noise. They hold hands before eating their evening meal, without utensils. Evelyn and her husband, Lee (John Krasinski, Blunt’s real-life husband and the film’s director / co-writer), prepare a space for the baby on the way — with a padded box and gas mask to suppress nighttime cries.
Father and daughter constantly butt heads. Besides not being able to talk, Regan (like Simmonds herself) is hearing-impaired. It’s presumed the family already knew sign language, which prepared them well for the invasion of blind-but-hearing monsters that mandates complete silence. But now, Lee is obsessed with creating a cochlear implant for Regan, which frustrates the preteen to no end.
“It. Won’t. Work,” she signs to him before yet another failed attempt. She’s under the impression that he doesn’t love her anymore, that he blames her for Beau’s demise two years earlier, just as she blames herself. Like any almost adolescent, including yours truly, Regan assumes her dad doesn’t care, wants to change her, isn’t doing this for her own good but rather his own gratification. When in truth, he does love her. He’s always loved her. He loves her so much he wants to give her the advantage she doesn’t have — the ability to hear creaks, footsteps, the sounds of mortal danger.
The Abbotts are a normal family, living in an abnormal world. Their humanity shines through even the most stressful scenes. When Evelyn homeschools her son Marcus, she signs “Amazing!” at a right answer, and he smiles. Later, Lee shows Marcus a waterfall, where thanks to the comparatively overwhelming noise they can have a conversation without fear of being detected. They talk about Regan, but the dialogue is stilted: These are people who can’t verbalize their thoughts and feelings on a regular basis and, as a result, have almost forgotten how. Knowing his little boy needs to blow off steam, Lee encourages Marcus to scream into the loud, wet void.
I love horror for many reasons — not just the blood and gore, but the genre’s potential for everything from camp to genuine terror, the dark humor, the recurring heroism of women and girls (the latter of which is present in A Quiet Place, in both Evelyn and Regan). I especially love when horror presents social commentary and, on a more basic level, heart. Many more qualified than I have written about Get Out, its startling, vulnerable portrait of being black in a society that thrives on white supremacy, and how supposedly “woke” liberals are in fact a big part of the problem. Like A Quiet Place, IT centers around an evil presence and the measures a town takes to both placate and avoid it. Both Stephen King’s original book and the 2017 film adaptation, however, take a deep dive into the uncertainty of adolescence, the nuances of grief, the long-lasting effects of parental abuse and the comfort and support in friendship.
IT is about chosen family as much as A Quiet Place is about biological family. No matter the type, every family has its talismans, the objects that define a collective experience, a life together. Get Out: a teacup, a camera, a television set. IT: a bicycle, a plaster cast, Georgie Denbrough’s yellow raincoat. And in A Quiet Place, the pill bottle, the gas mask, the fire Lee sets every night as both a sign of safety and a memorial for his lost son. The earbuds Lee and Evelyn share as they slow-dance, their hands on Evelyn’s pregnant belly. The cochlear implant that, along with Regan’s courage, saves them in the end. When your life is at stake, so is your heart, and A Quiet Place beautifully demonstrates that alongside the silo full of corn, the finger on the lips and the sign for “I love you.”