"A Quiet Place" celebrates disability without tokenization.
[Content note: spoilers ahead]
By Jazmine Joyner
I was worried before seeing “A Quiet Place”, a new horror film directed by John Krasinski. It stars Emily Blunt, Krasinski, Noah Jupe, and deaf actress Millicent Simmonds. The film is about a family in a post-apocalyptic world where the absence of sound is crucial to keeping themselves alive. I was worried because Hollywood has a terrible track record with shining a positive and humanizing light on people with disabilities, especially in the horror genre.
We are often seen as the grotesque monster; our disabilities used to accentuate the horror—like the blind nurses in “Silent Hill”. If disabled people aren’t shown as the monster, then we are often portrayed as the head henchmen to the main villain. Our primary weapon is somehow associated with our ailment. Le Chiffre in the 2006 James Bond film “Casino Royale” was blind in his left eye—he murders, steals and plunders, giving more credence to the idea that evil people are even more corrupt or immoral when they have some type of physical disability. This tradition continues with films like “Don’t Breathe”, where the blind man whose house is broken into turns out to be a complete and total creep. And in “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, the double amputee, Gazelle, has swords for lower legs and likes to chop everyone in half at the order of her evil boss.
So, walking into the theater, I had genuine reservations about how Millicent’s character, Reagan, would be represented in the story. To say I was pleasantly shocked by “A Quiet Place” would be an understatement. I wasn’t expecting such a smart, nuanced horror film that was not only entertaining, but brilliant in the way it integrates sign language and Reagan’s deafness. Because the world around them has been taken over by otherworldly beings who hunt by the slightest sound, the only way to survive is to be quiet. They walk around barefoot on sand they pre-laid, the children don't play with noisy toys, and thanks to Reagan, who was born deaf, the family has the advantage of communicating through sign language.
Sign language became an official and integral character of the film, so much so that when dialogue was spoken, it felt out of place in the world Krasinski created. In many films, Reagan’s deafness would probably be seen as a weakness, and to some extent, Reagan’s father, Lee, does see it as one. He refuses to take her on hunting expeditions, instead opting to take her extremely anxious and scared little brother; never the capable Reagan. But throughout the film, we are reminded that her disability is the real strength of this film. If she wasn’t deaf, her family would have no way of proper fluid communication because they wouldn’t have learned sign language. It is because of Reagan's disability that her family has a leg up in this soundless apocalypse. And throughout the film she proves how capable she is time and time again, gaining not only her father’s trust, but also banishing any doubts the audience might have.
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