‘A Quiet Place’: Horror in the Age of Trump

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Shhhh! A Quiet Place effectively embodies the paranoia and terror of living in Donald Trump’s America. John Krasinski’s tense new film dramatizes the struggle of trying to stay alive in a country where using your voice equals death, because unseen beings are surveilling you — and will kill you if you speak up. As film critic Robin Wood explained in his 1979 essay, ‘An Introduction to the American Horror Film,’ horror films are a window into what society fears at any specific moment in time. It’s the one genre where anything can happen to talk about sex, race, or politics, and the place where human psychology can be explored.

Unusually odd is liberal Hollywood creating a film which is a red-state fantasy. Set mostly in 2021, A Quiet Place centers on white farmers living in the cornfields on America’s margins, people who literally have no voice. The central idea of A Quiet Place is that aliens kill everything they hear. Speak too loudly? You’re dead. Play with a toy space shuttle that makes beeping noises? You’re a goner, just like the space shuttle program itself. How these aliens distinguish between the sounds of nature and the sound of potential food is never explained. A glass jar breaking will attract their attention but the wind rustling trees or waterfalls falling do not. Much in the movie is never explained. That only adds to the state of constant uncertainty that has become so pervasive in our culture. Nobody knows what will get you killed — or who is watching and listening. There are unseen, unexplained threats in the world waiting to kill you. They make no sense, but they’re out there. Trump’s ‘bad hombres’ are out there, waiting to rape you, or worse.

A white farm family being afraid of alien invaders isn’t the only thing that makes A Quiet Place representative of right wing ideology. All the key conservative talking points are enthusiastically enacted and tap into the same ‘Make America Great Again’ anxiety that elevated Trump in the first place. The heroic family home schools their kids, doesn’t use birth control, and relies on the husband to be the sole provider and protector while the wife stays home to cook and give birth. Most importantly, though, the film will have us believe that owning a gun is the ultimate key to survival, especially against predatory aliens who are from outer space but might as well be from Mexico, Syria, or one of the other travel ban countries.

Particularly self-indulgent is the pregnant wife storyline which dominates most of the film. While it’s a great complication dramatically — what do you do with a screaming newborn in a world where the slightest sound is a death warrant? — Krasinski as writer and director takes a cowardly approach to grappling with this dilemma. There is no debate of whether to keep the baby or not. Nor does the family talk about sacrificing the child immediately after it is born. These hard choices are completely ignored, for the right wing assumption is that all children must be born, no matter the circumstance. Who gives a shit what happens after their birth and what harm may one day come? The film is weaker for not even discussing the potential options to the pregnancy. Gut-wrenching moral decisions make for memorable movies. Instead, Krasinski believes a monster leftover from the H.R. Giger creature shop is scarier than choosing whether or not to abort your own child. The monsters, familiar toothy things of Alien-ish heritage, are another weak point. It’s as if a big clunky insectoid is what we expect monsters to look like when we all know the real horrors of life — poverty, cancer, school shootings — are less cartoonish.

The final episode of M*A*S*H dealt with this no-win situation far more seriously. In flashback, Hawkeye Pierce remembers how he insisted a refugee mother quiet her child so other refugees would live and she does so by smothering her baby to death. A Quiet Place doesn’t have the same storytelling balls, which is a shame. There are hard choices to be made and those are the revelatory moments a horror movie should dig its teeth into, not shrink away from.

Krasinski is far more interested in creating a “love letter” to his real-world wife, Emily Blount, who also plays his wife in the movie, and to their two daughters, than he is in exploring the profound cultural issues facing America today. By placing himself and Blount together in a monster movie centered on parenting, he does a huge disservice to society writ large. He could have chosen a multi-ethnic cast to face the threat. Instead, Krasinski puts America’s familiar white faces in peril. As if only white farm families are the real America. This is the essence of Trumpism. Protect your little white family, fuck everyone else.

Eric Coyote earned his Master of Arts degree in critical theory from the University of Southern California. He writes about movies, Hollywood, and culture.

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