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Life Arts    H4'ed 9/5/21

Silly Film Olympics: A Quiet Place & A Quiet Place II

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A Quiet Place
A Quiet Place
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After a great deal of silent debate, the Silly Film Olympics® Board of Governors® has voted unanimously to submit A Quiet Place (Krasinski 2018) & A Quiet Place II (Krasinski 2021) for consideration. Both films exhibit the kind of slap-dash silliness regular viewers have come to expect: confused directing, poor acting, sloppy technique and very big ideas squeezed into very small narrative boxes. Both films manage to create a bit of tension, a consistent pace and a consistently moody atmosphere, which provokes some (qualifier) audience interest. Too bad it goes unrewarded, as both play out like loosely strung guitars. "Press any soft spot," writes Jennette Catsoulis, "the whole plot caves in." Shadowing the first film is the theme, when under duress, impose a regressive, hierarchized, patriarchal social order. In the second, it's correcting the ideological rigidity of the first. (Spoiler alert: it doesn't.) Sometimes silliness comes in degrees. Sometimes it kicks you in the face. This is one of those kicks. That is, two kicks. Two films. Never mind.

No matter the consequences, no matter the challenges, the Silly Film Olympics® Board of Governors® is committed to upholding the values associated with good, solid, credible filmmaking, and they do this by ripping the crap out of films they don't like. "Parody," sang the bard, swinging from a chandelier. "All life's a parody, and all the players punch lines." [Full disclosure: there is no Silly Film Olympics® Board of Governors®.]

A Quiet Place (2018 Krasinski) is where you go after viewing a film made by a director who believes the assassins at CIA are "honorable people." White-nationalist christian propaganda stormtroops across the screen as a family struggles to stay alive in a post-apocalyptic world threatened by aliens who track them by sound. Arriving either by meteors or by "ships," the aliens quickly take control of the planet, forcing the Abbotts, and everyone else, to live in absolute silence. (Abbotts = monastery? Silence = christian subordination?) Father Lee, mother Evelyn, daughter Regan (12), who is deaf, and sons Marcus (10) and Beau (4) struggle to "maintain an element of familial normality" while hiding in a farmhouse cellar in the middle of a sci-fi slash horror tryst.

It's not easy. Three months in their youngest son plays with a toy rocket and is instantly killed by an alien. Flash forward a year and the Abbotts appear genuinely fragile. Lee tries to hold his family together and it only leads to nasty fights with his surviving children. Evelyn's pregnancy seems welcome, but she induces labor when she steps barefoot on a nail and then has to deliver the baby while trying to avoid the alien searching her basement hideout. She blames herself for Beau's death but remains supportive of everything her husband does. "Your father will always protect you," she tells her children, and he does, eventually making the ultimate sacrifice. Regan and Marcus run to the safety of the basement, where Evelyn is desperately trying to sooth the baby. Their muffled sounds attract a second alien. Luckily, Regan figures out how to use her hearing aid to scramble the alien's defenses and Evelyn promptly blows its head off. The film ends with the family, what's left of it, momentarily safe and Evelyn smiling, pumping another shell into the chamber.

So many "soft spots."

Why would Lee insist that Regan "stay home" with Evelyn? She's smart, independent and resourceful, and she sincerely wants to help her father. Yet he angrily rejects her. On the other hand, he demands that Marcus accompany him to the river, despite Marcus pleading with his father not to take him. When this fails, the boy becomes hysterical and reaches for Evelyn, who calmly defers to her husband. Why is she so passive? More to the point, why is Lee so adamant about forcing his children into these gender-specific roles, against their will? One would think, in light of the circumstances, aggressively cultivating whatever skills are available would be key to survival. Not here. Sex determines one's role. Even Evelyn operates within a strictly defined domestic space, the handmaiden tethered to the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, her single foray into the world beyond a guilt trip resulting in a painful, early delivery. The entire arrangement is a reactionary wet dream, where women and children are invisible and power resides entirely with the man. The aliens are simply an excuse.

It's the only way the film makes sense. The world viewers are introduced to is the world as seen through the blanched eyes of a paranoid, cruel, patriarchy-pushing martinet determined to bind his family in Iron Age restraints. A quiet place is where man is king, his (signed) word is law and his subordinates obey him or else. Where god is male and man god-like. Before Women's Rights, before Civil Rights, before multiculturalism and before the nuclear family becomes obsolete.

It explains Lee's ruthless ambivalence toward his children. It also explains why Evelyn pulls her hand away from her panic-stricken son. As a practicing christian, it's her duty to obey her husband. (Christianity is, of course, the religious expression of patriarchy.) While abandoning a terrified child and subjecting him to more suffering might seem sadistic to normal people, christians have a long history of torturing children. Thus, Marcus is presented as a childish cry-baby who must learn to man-up, while Regan is the Eve in the story. Her mother flagellates, her father simmers, but it's Regan who violates her father's rules and gets her brother killed. Ironically, she's also indirectly responsible for his death, since she's the one who insisted on leaving the safety of the silo.

In true biblical fashion, a quiet place is where independent women are a threat and tyrants are reborn as heroes. Sweet.

A Quiet Place II (2021 Krasinski) opens with Lee going to a Little League baseball game and sitting near Regan to watch Marcus' team play. For some reason, they're on the opposition side of the field. Evelyn, meanwhile, is standing behind Marcus, on his side. He's about to bat and looks very nervous, and she tries to calm him. "Breathe," she tells her son. (It's unclear why he'd play if he's afraid of the ball, but it does seem a trait.) Three pitches later a large black cloud appears and the game is suspended. Evelyn hurries Beau & Marcus into the car, while Regan chooses to go with her father. Suddenly, the aliens attack. Lee and Regan escape through a pharmacy, while Evelyn, driving madly through town, crashes and blacks out.

Close readers will note this opening sequence reverses the behavior and the attitudes of the characters introduced in the first film, which in turn radically alters the politics of their relationships. Here the dismissive, intolerant patriarch is re-conceived as a sensitive father who shows up late but who really cares about his children, especially his daughter. The distanced, dutiful, complicit mother returns as an advocate for the son she will eventually betray. (She supports him when he's playing baseball, but not when he's terrified of being torn apart by aliens?) The angry 12-year-old daughter who doesn't trust her father and fights with him constantly reappears as his BFF, watching the game together, leaving the area arm in arm and then escaping with him through the pharmacy. A multicultural pharmacy, by the bye, where praying to a celestial "Father" is forbidden. How convenient. How contrived.

A Quiet Place II is where all things "repressed" return, if by repressed is meant women and children are reduced to moveable objects in a patriarchal theme park. The first film is thought to paint a sensitive portrait of the nuclear family under duress. From a distance it appears to trace an important arc, where women perform as handmaidens throughout and then turn butt-kicking Rambos in the final reel. Surely a sequel would allow Evelyn and Regan to develop these talents further. Silly person. None of that happens in A Quiet Place II. Instead of probing the feudal politics of its predecessor, or the religious gossamer woven around its themes, or the brutal gendering of its subjects, the film tosses out a few balancing acts wrapped tightly inside a meandering, senseless script. Pablum, anyone?

The second part of Part II jumps from "Day 1" to just after Evelyn shoots the alien in the basement, more than a year later. She's the head of the family now, the adult responsible for protecting her children. She's shown some metal before, she not a complete ditz, and the sequence begins with her taking charge and leading her children away from the farm. Is her character getting an update here as well? Will she emerge from her socio-religious cocoon as a tough-minded feminist? The image of female power? Nope. Two steps in, she and her children have to be rescued by Emmett, a friend of the family who's found sanctuary in an old cement factory. Don't look now but the film just returned to its ideological roots, not that the storyline clarifies anything. Emmett saves the Abbotts, then tells them to get out. Evelyn begs him to let them stay, then shames him for not helping sooner. Regan leaves to find the source of the radio signal and Evelyn demands Emmett go and find her. And he does. Who are these people?

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BK Faunce is a retired Associate Professor of English (UMW / UCSC) specializing in British Romantic Literature, Film Theory and Writing. His recent work examines the use of state power and its impact on visual culture.

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