Posted on May 25, 2021

The Persistence of Reproductive Futurism in A Quiet Place

Guest Post

‘If they hear you, they hunt you.’ A Quiet Place (2018) tells the story of a white American family fighting to survive in a post-apocalyptic North American landscape, where they are forced to live in silence to avoid monstrous creatures that hunt by sound and have wiped out the majority of the population. The fictional couple Evelyn and Lee Abbott (played by real-life Hollywood couple Emily Blunt and John Krasinki) are determined to find a way to protect their children (deaf daughter Regan, and sons Marcus and Beau) while desperately searching for a way to fight back.

They fail within the first ten minutes, when their youngest and cutest child Beau, too young to realise the danger, activates a battery-powered space shuttle toy, giving away his location to a creature that kills him before daddy (Krasinski) can save him. The screen goes black, the credit titles play, and then the film jumps to ‘DAY 472’, leaving behind the immediate aftermath of Beau’s death and jumping to a sunny day in the near future. We watch the Abbott family go quietly about their daily chores on an abandoned farm they’ve made their home, the idyllic family portrait blending into a second shot of an old monitor displaying surveillance footage from one of many cameras Lee has set up on the property to watch over his family and scan for threats. Evelyn is heavily pregnant, and the rest of the film documents the parents’ struggle to bring a new child into this silent world while trying to protect the ones they have from the constant, dogged threat of creatures intent on disrupting their farmland paradise.

Beau’s early death

The almost immediate murder of Beau tempts us to read A Quiet Place as exhibiting a queer or subversive politics that has become a feature of a range of apocalypse horror films since the release of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in 1968 along with its five sequels. Romero’s film was a direct response to and representation of a United States marred by civil unrest. The script was written during and released just after the ‘long, hot summer of 1976’, during which 159 race riots erupted across the country in the context of the institutionalised unemployment, abusive policing, and poor housing that Black Americans had been subjected to from the post-bellum period onwards. While not dealing directly with US racial politics, Beau’s early death could be read as representing a queer political potential in its undermining of audience expectations by killing off the Abbotts’ youngest so quickly. Except it absolutely does not.

Before describing the way in which the queer potential of the film’s opening scene is fundamentally neutered by A Quiet Place’s wider narrative arc and stubborn preservation of the hetero-nuclear family unit, it’s worth taking a moment to define what exactly I mean by queer potential or queer politics. In his now landmark text, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, which was published in 2004 just as the post-apocalypse film was really gaining commercial traction in Hollywood, Lee Edelman makes a series of striking claims about the nature of the political sphere and queerness as a practice of resistance.

‘The Child,’ Edelman writes, ‘invariably shapes the logic within which the political itself must be thought’ (2). Edelman argues that political discourse, regardless of its party affiliation or its explicit position on the political spectrum, is structured and expressed through the phantasm of the Child. This immutable symbol, according to Edelman, functions within the political sphere as the ‘fantasmatic beneficiary of every political intervention’ and the perfect emblem of what he terms ‘reproductive futurism’: a term that preserves ‘the absolute privilege of heteronormativity’ by casting ‘the possibility of a queer resistance’ outside of the political domain (2). If the phantasm of the Child represents the reproductive futurist logic of hetero-society and culture, queerness for Edelman names the side of those ‘not fighting for the children’ (3). To be clear, Edelman is not being literal (as right-wing discourse would claim): queer is not synonymous with the LGBTQIA community, and the Child is not synonymous with real-life kids. In 2016, an estimated 705,000 United States households were headed by a same-sex couple.[i] The stakes here are symbolic—but also intensely political.

Mainstream cinema and television, or what we might describe as the cinematic apparatus of contemporary society, plays a central part in the formation of the logics and boundaries that constitute the political sphere and its discourse. In this sense, horror cinema has always possessed a queer potentiality in its disruption and desecration of the phantasmic Child – see Horror Homeroom’s round-up of ‘Horror’s Creepiest Kids’ from The Bad Seed (1956) to We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011).[ii] The post-millennial commercialisation of the apocalyptic horror genre had the potential to go even further in its dismantling of reproductive futurist discourse: the post-apocalyptic world represents a destruction of a pre-existing social order, as well as producing (in theory) a blank canvas for forms of queer utopianism and world-building that move beyond all forms of heteronormative kinship and community relations.

Evelyn the earth-mother

In its dogged adherence to the logics of reproductive futurism, namely the undisrupted worship of the phantasmic Child, A Quiet Place is a prime example of the mainstream assimilation and disarming of the queer potential of the apocalypse genre. Evelyn, the heavily pregnant Aryan earth-mother gliding around in floral skirts and clutching her children (born and unborn) to her breast, is only permitted to be violent onscreen when defending her brood, and the violence thus affirms rather than disrupts the mummy-bear stereotype. Lee, the plaid-clad Daddy-hero is constantly on the move, dashing back and forth between mother and children, a literal martyr who ultimately dies under the strain of trying to hold the nuclear family unit together. They’re played by a real-life Hollywood couple, and Krasinski himself directs the film, deliberately blurring the lines between hetero-fantasy and ‘reality’.

Lee the martyr

In terms of visual and narrative logics, despite being fuelled by the constant peripheral threat to the Child from the creeping Monster, A Quiet Place balks at the thought of actually representing onscreen violence against the child characters or representing the child characters committing violence. At the moment the creature reaches Beau in the film’s opening scene, the narrative cuts away, refusing to deal either with the violence itself or with the immediate aftermath – the raw and silent grief of the family – in favour of jumping into the immediate future to a heavily pregnant Evelyn. The narrative arc is all Hollywood causality in favour of psychological realism. In doing so, the film avidly dodges the question: ‘Why the f**k would we have a baby during a silent apocalypse when our four-year old just got murdered?’ in favour of centring the plot around the question: ‘How will we have a baby during a silent apocalypse when our four-year old just got murdered?’ The reproductive futurist arc remains dominant and unmarred by Beau’s murder.

It would be naïve to think that Lee’s death in the first film will open up the upcoming sequel, A Quiet Place Part II, to a representation of queer life-times and kinship beyond the discursive limit of reproductive futurism, in the same way it was naïve to invest any queer potential in Beau’s murder. In the zero-sum game of the Child, the first film opened with three children, and the second film will begin with three children (Evelyn successfully and silently gave birth to Beau’s replacement at the end of A Quiet Place). The cycle continues.

Rhys Jones is a doctoral candidate and interdisciplinary teaching fellow at the University of Liverpool where he teaches queer theory and film. He is a regular contributor Sublime Horror and has featured on the podcast ‘Horrorspiria’. You can find him on Twitter at @rhysteven.

You can rent or buy A Quiet Place on Amazon (ad):


[i] The American Community Survey (ACS) is an annual survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. Each year, approximately 3.54 million households and group quarters are surveyed across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, which represent over 98% of all households and group quarters in the United States/Puerto Rico.

[ii] For the full list, see, Gwen Hofmann’s “Horror’s Creepiest Kids Roundup.”

And here is Lee Edelman’s No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Duke Univ. Press, 2004).

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