How Dystopian Horror Helps Us Find Our Humanity Again

While we’ve always consumed massive amounts of media from the comfort of our living rooms, in the spring of 2020, watching from home became the only option. A life-threatening pandemic was raging just outside, and tastes leaned towards lush, comforting television shows that tranquilized people into believing everything was going to be all right: “Bridgerton,” “The Queen’s Gambit” and “The Great British Baking Showbroke records for Netflix and won unexpected fans.

But, we live in a noisy, distracting world, and some genres have the unique ability to block everything out and hold a viewer’s attention. Our very own dystopia—the still ongoing pandemic—has made us even more obsessed with the dystopia, horror, and sci-fi genres. We see more of ourselves in these characters, as heroes, as failures, and as people who have suffered. What’s more, science fiction and apocalyptic storytelling reveal precise truths about the world in a way that no other genre can. 

“A Quiet Place Part II,” which will release only in theaters on May 28, is the ideal catalyst for that change. The movie is the much-anticipated sequel to the 2018 sleeper hit about one family’s struggle to live in silence and hide from terrifying creatures that hunt sound. Both films were written and directed by John Krasinski, and also star his wife, Emily Blunt.

At the heart of any good dystopia is a central question of humanity’s capacity for survival, and the sacrifices we make for people we care about. “A Quiet Place explored these themes with a beautiful lyricism, and the sequel is expected to pick up the same thread and pull it even harder.

But perhaps even more importantly, “A Quiet Place Part II represents a unique transition in the history of apocalyptic filmmaking. Audiences can no longer view the film at a removed distance for the purpose of simple escapism. Now, it’s far likelier that watching will be less passive and double as a form of therapy. These characters are managing situations that, two years ago, may have seemed unthinkable but, today, are actually not that fantastical. It’s helpful to see people dealing with impossible, life-threatening scenarios where the rules of society have fallen apart.

“A Quiet Place Part II” picks up with Evelyn Abbott (Blunt) leading her two living children Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe) on a quest for a new safe haven. Along the way, they meet Emmett (Cillian Murphy), who is poised to either help them or turn them back out on their own.

The tension within “A Quiet Place Part IImirrors the external pressure on the film to revive the act of moviegoing; the release date had already been postponed several times, before finally being set to premiere on May 28th. Although Paramount Pictures (amongst many studios) is gambling on the fact that people will eagerly mask up and leave their homes on Memorial Day weekend, the industry as a whole is still trying to decide what the right path forward will be as once 90-day exclusive theatrical windows have been cut down to 45.

The entertainment industry has long promoted blockbuster horror films as a must-see in theaters, but people delight in terrifying themselves from the comfort of home. What’s more, it’s often preferable: Netflix’s “Bird Box—starring Sandra Bullock and featuring a presence people couldn’t bear to look at—came out in 2018, the same year as “A Quiet Place,” and was a huge hit for the streaming service. The same is very likely to be true for “A Quiet Place Part II,” which will be available to stream on Paramount+ 45 days after the theatrical release. Although the film is being touted as another savior of cinema, its true impact may not have anything to do with smashed box office records. 

Like the Abbotts, we, as a society, are living in a state of flux and oscillation we never asked for. Our insatiable desire to return to “normal” is understandable, but, at best, it will only be a kind of “new normal” with vestiges and memories of our current trauma coloring every day of the future. Within that context, the future of moviegoing remains uncertain as well. Will people return to the theater in droves for big opening weekends the way they once did? Or will the vast majority prefer to watch films intended for the big screen on something much smaller?

All of that remains to be seen, and larger questions about how art will find us and help us heal is worth paying close attention to. For now, it’s clear that “A Quiet Place Part II has the potential to become more than a new genre classic that coaxes fans back into theaters. It can be a touchstone, marking a point when our collective fascination with fictional dystopia merges with our lived experiences.