When i looked A quiet place In theaters three years ago, like many, I was pissed off by the weight of the horror film’s immersive, horrifying, overwhelming silence. Last week when i saw A Quiet Place, Part II, it was the first time in a long time that I was in a theater or in a room with so many people. The experience was personally moving, but I noted with irony how, in a film based on silence, I was incredibly aware of how noisy a cinema is. All the ambient sounds – the crackle of popcorn, the creak of jeans tight against the vinyl seats, the moan of anticipation – made me intimately aware of the presence and closeness of other moviegoers. In the logic of the film, these sounds could kill me; in the logic of our reality, until a few months ago, even their breaths could do the same.
Watching a post-apocalyptic film more than a year after the start of a global pandemic is a strange exercise. Dystopian vignettes of deserted streets and closed shops reflect too intimately what was very recently our own dystopian reality under Covid-19.
It may follow that A Quiet Place, Part II has been criticized for not being imaginative enough, either for being too attached to realism (an odd review for a monster movie) or not providing enough background on the characters or monsters. Many critics seem to have forgotten that the film was actually due to be released just before the pandemic. The film premiered in New York on March 8, 2020, but has repeatedly delayed its theatrical release due to Covid. For a film produced before the pandemic loomed on the horizon, it was actually oddly prescient about many of the challenges we’ve encountered since, which makes its late release ironically timely.
Already aware of the premise of the original, audiences are sensitized to noise in the sequel, and the film handles that with great effect. We flinch at the crackle of a plastic water bottle, we bristle at the rumble of a car engine, hold our breath at the click of boots. The film intelligently and counter-intuitively plays with sound, skillfully capable of making the invisible visible and the inaudible audible, giving form to silence as an absence of sound that can only be heard. The “silence” of the world, for example, is both accentuated and highlighted by the amplification of ambient noises: songs of birds, cicadas, rustling of leaves. Our world, even without us, is never really calm.
I have no interest in defending the problematic politics of the original and the sequel. If the first film could be read as a commentary on white racial fears, the second removes this possibility. Frighteningly, the colored people in Part 2 are either presented as reckless and used as convenient scapegoats, or sacrificed as noble martyrs for the survival of the white Abbott family. You can’t help but remember Nancy Pelosi terrible blunder by calling the death of George Floyd his “sacrifice for justice”. In addition to an uncomfortable glorification, addiction and romanticization of guns in the first film, there’s the homage to reproductive futurism: Evelyn (played by Emily Blunt) shudders, “Who are we?” , if we cannot protect [our children]? Even the indomitable Blunt emerges breathtaking – albeit briefly – in all the glory of “Karen” when she demands that her traumatized ex-neighbor with literal skeletons in her closet, Emmett (Cillian Murphy), risk her life. to bring him his daughter.
But the film also manages to come up with some interesting questions. When the Abbott family first meet Emmett in an abandoned steel mill, he is reluctant to help them. In fact, he has retreated so completely into seclusion that an airtight blast furnace serves as his literal and metaphorical inner sanctuary, which offers protection against the threat of asphyxiation. It is this tension that A Quiet Place, Part I and II also explore more widely: a shot can save your life, but invariably attracts more deadly creatures. America and many other countries took this into account during the pandemic, as many people suffered from issues such as mental health and domestic violence during the lockdown; conversely, premature reopening or social events that felt uplifting to the point of giving life ultimately led to waves of more serious infections and invariably to more deaths. Emmett’s inner sanctum acts as a symbol of his asceticism and refusal to engage with the world. The philosopher Isaiah Berlin presents two forms of freedom: positive and negative. Negative freedom describes the absence of barriers to one’s freedom, while positive freedom refers to the possibility of taking action to take control of one’s life. Positive freedom presents a paradox, however: in an oppressive system, one can modify one’s own beliefs, convince oneself that one’s desires have diminished, retire “to an inner citadel” in which one feels satisfied. This is literally what Emmett did, and the strength of the film is that he and we recognize that what is needed in the face of disaster is in fact the opposite.