“A Quiet Place” isn’t an indie film with a small cult following. This is a hugely successful Hollywood blockbuster with household names at the forefront. It has achieved wide critical success since its 2018 release, prompting the likes of Stephen King – frequently lauded as the “King of Horror” – to take to Twitter commending the first installment.
This puts deaf culture in front of a huge audience, and gives our community a spotlight that has quite frankly been dimmed for far too long. The sequel brought in a sweeping $58 million at the U.S. box office its opening weekend alone. Viewers were exposed to a story whose heroes are a deaf girl and a cochlear implant device.
Although the first film focused on Regan’s deafness, “A Quiet Place II” delves into her world much further. There are periods where the sound cuts out and there’s complete silence while chaos ensues all around her. This shows the viewers what it’s like navigating this world as a deaf person.
The addition of Cillian Murphy’s character Emmett to the film was a small stroke of genius. Without giving too much away, Regan spends a large majority of the film alone with Emmett, a friend of her dad who does not know sign language. This presents a communication barrier that Emmett finds difficult to overcome.
Regan, confident in her abilities, teaches him how to communicate with her through various methods. She gets him to enunciate correctly and turn his face directly towards her when he repeatedly speaks to her from a side angle. This is a common behavior the deaf community will recognize all too well. In one scene, Emmett and Regan find themselves in a high stake situation with a group of feral humans. He uses a sign she taught him earlier in the film to deliver a crucial message to her in that moment, wonderfully demonstrating the benefits of silent communication.
Perhaps my favorite use of American Sign Language (ASL) in the film was during a flashback sequence to the Abbott family attending their son Marcus’s – played by Noah Jupe – baseball game before the alien takeover. Marcus is out on the pitch, clearly nervous about the game. His family is watching him from a distance in the stands. He can see his Mum, played by Blunt. She signs words of encouragement, able to comfort him with a few waves of her fingers. It’s a sweet moment. It was great to see sign being used by two hearing people, which shows how special sign is. The message once again is that sign’s beauty and usefulness goes beyond the deaf community. Non-verbal means of communication benefits everyone.
“The message once again is that sign’s beauty and usefulness goes beyond the deaf community.”
John Krasinski has received praise for his insistence in casting Simmonds. She taught the cast sign language during the production of the first film. Krasinski reportedly went to her for guidance on what each scene would be like for her in this fictional world. Having a deaf actress play a deaf character lends a respectful voice of authenticity and is part of what gives the film its depth.
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The cinema I watched the film in was packed (as packed as COVID restrictions would allow. I felt overwhelmed watching a big audience take in this deaf story. When the lights came on and we walked out, I caught a couple of people eying my cochlear implant. I can honestly say that it was the first time since having my operation a few months back where I didn’t feel self conscious from the stares. My feeling of pride is why the right representation is so important. I definitely felt more connected to the character because I knew the actress playing her was deaf too. Her performance was empowering.
Now that Simmonds has signed with top talent agency WME, we can expect to see a lot more of her on our screens.
Flashback sequences and soundproof bunkers mean there are more spoken scenes in this film than the first. Alas, they were not captioned. I wish that the entire film had been subtitled to be inclusive. I was able to piece most of it together by lipreading, which but did pull me out of the film a bit. Here in the UK, subtitled screenings are still few and far between and listed during off peak times. No, I don’t want to watch a horror film on my lunch break at 1 PM on a Tuesday, thank you. But I recommend finding a subtitled screening if your area has them.
Then there’s the issue of the cochlear implant being used to transmit feedback. Anyone who wears one will know that the processor does not transmit feedback like a hearing aid at all. I gave them the benefit of the doubt with this, as Krasinski’s character tricked out the processor during the first film. Supposedly this is where the feedback comes from. It would have been great to see the cochlear implant — already misunderstood by a lot of people — portrayed correctly.
It would have been impressive if the sound design team had created realistic noise of an implant when shooting Simmond’s POV scenes rather than just silence. In “Sound of Metal,” (TSOM) the movie about a deaf drummer, the team created audio illusions that won them the Academy Award for best sound design. “A Quiet Place II” excluding this felt like a wasted opportunity. It seems that “A Quiet Place” excels in the areas where TSOM fails, and vice versa. This suggests that more research is needed when preparing scripts for deaf stories. Likewise, more time needs to be spent speaking with people who wear the devices being depicted on film.
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Overall, “A Quiet Place II” is a big win for ASL representation. It is a celebration of sign language and D/deaf talent, but still has a way to go with the depiction of hearing technology. With talks of a third film in the works, I hope we see an improvement. But hey, we now live in a world where a deaf child leads a battle against the bad guys and saves the day. We get to watch as her so called “impairments” become her greatest weapons. And that’s pretty great.