From Friday the 13th Part Two to Relic, we have seen many examples of disability in horror this quarter. In the former, we see a dramatic slashing of Mark, who is in a wheelchair, which features his slashed body rolling down the stairs in his chair. We also see Jason become a villain slasher as a result of severe developmental issues. In the latter, we uncomfortably witness the grandmother use a slur to describe her neighbor Jamie, who has Down’s Syndrome, as a way to portray her mental decline and loss of touch with the present day. The movies play along with what is standard in the horror genre: disabilities are exploited to create fear (as Jason’s developmental issues are what make him scary) while simultaneously used as a punchline (like Mark rolling down the stairs after being slashed and Jamie’s Down Syndrome only included to be made fun of). John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place takes a fundamentally different approach to standard disability in horror by centering the movie on a disabled protagonist. The film follows the survival journey of a family as they attempt to evade monsters which attack and kill things that produce sound. The daughter and oldest child of the family, Regan, is deaf, which greatly complicates things in a world where one must regulate their own sound to survive. Despite at times succumbing to classic problems, the movie is an overall positive step in disability representation in the horror genre and the film industry as a whole.
There are a few notable ways that Regan and her disability are portrayed which are inherently similar to the tropes seen in the other movies we discussed this quarter that feature disabled characters. In multiple scenes, the viewer is forced into Regan’s perspective. This is not accomplished through a traditional POV shot, but rather a POA (point of audition) where we hear what Regan hears (nothing). One scene in particular features this POA as we see Regan with her back turned to the monsters. While the other characters (and audience) would normally hear a growling of the monsters, we realize that Regan does not. We become fearful for her fate as the dramatic irony builds; we see the monster that she does not, and we are made very aware of the fact that she cannot hear it. While a case could be made that this moment is a positive one, as it forces an assumed hearing audience to truly relate to a deaf character, I take issue with the fact that the moments we relate to her in this way are exploited to make us fearful of her fate. How positive can this moment be if we are fearful every time we identify with Regan? In this way, the attempt to relate to her actually causes us to associate her deafness with fear, similar to how we associate Jason’s severe developmental issues with fear in Friday the 13th Part 2. Though we don’t see Regan as a villain with malicious intent, her very existence in this world scares us. Another issue in the portrayal of Regan’s deafness in this film is the fact that it is her cochlear implant, meant to “cure” her condition, is what saves the family. This critique has been extensively discussed in class as well as on the Canvas discussion board, and is made more powerful when we learned (likely for the first time) from the Berry reading that the cochlear implant, which allows her to overcome her struggles in this world, is very controversial within the deaf community.
While these elements are in line with problematic portrayals of disability in horror, it would be reductive to speak of A Quiet Place as a movie that simply follows the classical tropes. When we strip away the monsters, jumpscares, and fear of sound in this movie, we are left with a narrative of a young girl struggling to come to terms with her disability, notably in her guilt about how her disability burdens the rest of her family. It is absolutely incredible to see a major film tell this story which is all too relatable to disabled children. We see Regan’s guilt as she feels blame from her parents due to her disability. We see her anger as her hopeful Dad tries to give her a new device when she has already lost all hope. We see a vulnerable moment where she tests the new device, and we realize with her that it does not work through the best use of POA in the movie. We see her realization at the end of the film that her Dad does care for her and that he does not blame her for who she is. We experience all of the emotions she feels as a disabled child. This is powerful even when clouded by some inappropriate portrayals. The use of ASL in the film, which serves as an advantage to the family, is an excellent example of disability accommodation shown as a tool rather than a burden to others. Behind the scenes, we also learned that the crew for this film learned ASL to help communicate with the actress who plays Regan, Millicent Simmons, who is deaf herself. These are incredibly powerful, incredibly important decisions made for this movie that make it one of the most thorough disability portrayals in film.
All in all, this movie does a good job handling disability. While there are strides to be made, much of the problem comes from the fact that this is a horror movie that needs to both scare people and give them hope in order to be successful. POA to build suspense and the cochlear implant as a saving grace are both a result of those necessities. At its core, this movie tells the story of a disabled child growing up with an able bodied family, and navigates the complex emotions that come with such an experience. The director made special care to ensure accessibility on set, and took major risks in producing a film like this. While there is always room to grow, this movie made excellent strides to fix issues seen throughout the genre and the industry as a whole.