If there’s one thing I remember from childhood, it’s that my parents were always telling me to be quiet. If it’s in the mall, a movie theater, or some sort of religious ceremony, they were constantly imploring me to hush up. A Quiet Place and its new sequel, A Quiet Place Part II, are the most horrible exaggeration of that constant pressure to stop yammering all the time. Instead of social embarrassment, the downside of being loud is a very painful, ugly death at the hands of a merciless alien monster.
Like the classic works of Steven Spielberg, the A Quiet Place films are an exorcism of childhood fears and anxieties about growing up, staying alive, and watching your family evolve, or worse, completely disintegrate. In director John Krasinski’s sequel, the loss of the father figure for the Abbott family in the first film is a shadow that hangs over the entire runtime. Without their crafty survivalist father, there’s seemingly no plan for the Abbotts, but they luck out and meet Emmett, played by Cillian Murphy.
Emmett isn’t a stepdad in the legal sense, but he fills their father’s steel-toed work boots. And like any movie featuring a stepdad figure, the kids absolutely hate him at first. Which leads me to believe that deep down, A Quiet Place Part II is actually one big allegory for the challenges inherent in divorce.
In a new episode of Galaxy Brains, Jonah Ray and I are joined by film critic and the co-host of the Unspooled podcast, Amy Nicholson, to sort out whether or not A Quiet Place Part II is the scariest movie since Kramer vs. Kramer. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation (which has been edited for clarity, and contains some spoilers).
Dave: I want to talk about another aspect of the family, and that is the baby. The stuff with the baby in the box makes me feel like nuts. Like is there any better way to guarantee anxiety from an audience then to put a baby in danger in a movie?
Amy: This is where I sound like a bad person because I wanted the baby to die in the movie. I’m sorry.
Dave: Jonah also said “I didn’t care about the baby at all.” But I biting my nails the whole time.
Jonah: They should have gave the baby a gun. Raise the stakes. “Do something for once!”
Dave: Chekhov’s baby.
Amy: I thought it would be really interesting if if Noah Jupe’s character accidentally killed the baby while trying to do a good job. You can’t keep all of your children alive in these circumstances. Also, why did she stick him with babysitting? I didn’t understand any of the thing where she was like, “Cillian Murphy has to go get my daughter because I can’t.” She’s just going to go run errands.
Dave: This movie being the destruction of the idyllic American family. It’s got a lot of history behind it. Lots of movies have been about this very topic, but it feels like most of them are about largely white middle class environments. Halloween, I think about a lot. That’s a mostly white, small town. You don’t really see this story told in different cultural environments. Why is it that we keep coming back to this particular image of the small town with a mostly white population
Amy: And it feels like Halloween doesn’t even just crystallize it. Halloween kind of started the idea that terror is scarier when it happens to people in the suburbs. That was a lot of John Carpenter’s basic idea because when you think about horror films before then, it’s like, bad things might happen if you’re a hitchhiker on the road. But it’s usually there’s a mad scientist in the lab somewhere. If something goes wrong, like the horror happening to this, like suburban family, it feels really tired because it’s happened our entire life. But then that idea of us has become so lazy and so default and so inaccurate that it doesn’t feel like us anymore. Which I think is why I check out, honestly, in a lot of these suburban family films, because it’s not really even a family that I relate to super much and it feels lazy to me, like it’s the most basic default human setting on them. It’s a mommy and daddy and a baby and a kid. Don’t you care about them?What if you don’t care that much? What if you are like me and you want to see the world burn? [laughs]
Jonah: Was that why Attack the Block kind of blew up? Because it felt so brand new? Because it was just like alien attack movie in an urban setting. Everyone went “whoa.”
Amy: That’s true. I think apartments are equally scary. If you live in an apartment, you’re more guaranteed to have crazy things go wrong in your apartment. Have you guys ever looked up your own address on an old newspaper site? I did it once and I found out that in my apartment in 1924, there was an advertisement to send away to my address to buy magical fortune reading cards. The cuddly gypsy fortune teller which is living into it that was selling cards to people. I mean that’s incredible. Like if we had more apartment stuff, you have more freedom for things like that.
But to bring it back, Carpenter was trying with Halloween to make a statement about the evil that lives in the suburbs, because when you think about it, Michael Meyers, he’s from the suburbs. He’s a child of the suburbs. He is not an outsider, really. He grew up there. And John Carpenter talks about like. Moving to the South when he was a kid and realizing that people in the South who live in ordinary houses and think that they’re ordinary Americans are actually evil because he was in the South during a lot of the civil rights movement and seeing that he wasn’t used to racism because he was from the north, he wasn’t used to seeing it as blatantly as he saw it when he moved to the south. This idea that he had gets mutated by people who do it really badly and they don’t understand where he was going with it. And I think it becomes really toxic at a certain point. When you think about the most freaked out people in America, it feels like people who live in rural suburbs are terrified about like antifa coming in in the middle of the night and killing everybody. It’s like that Fox News fear feels like it goes hand in hand with these movies about like ordinary, nice people. Here’s the trouble. And John Carpenter was like, no, you are the monsters. Everybody just missed that point.
For a bigger deep dive into A Quiet Place Part II, or to hear our episodes on Cruella’s Disney-approved punk aspirations, Spiral: From the Book of Saw’s weird connection to tech, Josie and the Pussycats as an anti-capitalist masterpiece, the animated soul of Star Wars, and the pro-wrestling ambitions of Mortal Kombat, check out the Galaxy Brains feed, wherever you get your podcasts.