Eli Roth’s remake of “Death Wish”, the film from 1974 in which Charles Bronson played a vigilante, has just opened in Britain, so viewers with the stomach for it can see what goes on in the mind of the most fervid National Rifle Association supporter. A surgeon (Bruce Willis) responds to his wife’s murder by sneaking out at night, blowing bloody holes in carjackers, and then heading home for coffee (he has a semi-automatic stashed in his coffee table). Apparently, this sort of justice makes America a safer and happier place.
But there is another new film with a similar perspective, and this one isn’t a lurid remake, but an atmospheric and original horror movie which has been getting gushing reviews from critics everywhere, me included. “A Quiet Place”, starring Emily Blunt and John Krasinski, who also directs and co-writes, may end up on my list of the best films of 2018. It’s disconcerting to realise that it could be on the NRA’s list as well.
“A Quiet Place” is set just after a horde of feral alien-monsters has gobbled up most of the human race. Almost the only people we see are a married couple and their two children. I won’t reveal exactly how they survive, but it would be easy to watch this film and come away with the impression that when your country/town/home is invaded, there is nothing that the authorities will be able to do about it. Your community won’t be any help, either, and there is no way you can negotiate or co-exist peacefully with the invaders. No, your only hope is to festoon your property with security cameras, learn how to hunt and prepare your own food, grow a shaggy beard (if applicable), and, most importantly, keep a shotgun handy. The couple’s other self-preservation tactics are all well and good, but in the end, it’s the ability to squeeze a trigger that makes the difference between being a responsible parent and an alien’s breakfast.
One of the fondest fantasies of Second Amendment obsessives is that a private citizen with a box of ammunition could fend off the US Army, should the need arise, and that fantasy is endorsed by “A Quiet Place”, in which gun-toting farmers fare better against the aliens than the entire American war machine. Defenders of the right to bear arms will also see flattering reflections of themselves in the film’s heroes, a photogenic white family that lives on a backwoods farm. And it’s notable that Krasinski has said in interviews that “A Quiet Place” isn’t really about ravenous extra-terrestrials; it’s about “the extremes you go to as parents to protect your kids”. Meanwhile, Roth has said that “Death Wish” is “really about family and protecting your family.” So that’s all right, then.
I’m not saying that Krasinski set out to pen a love letter to right-wing gun nuts. He acted in Michael Bay’s “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”, so he is obviously happy to be in films which push an anti-Democratic Party agenda, but in the case of “A Quiet Place” it’s far more likely that he was intent on making a knuckle-whitening, throat-tightening creature feature – and on that score he succeeded in style. He probably didn’t think too much about the film’s unambiguous pro-gun message, nor is it a message I’ve seen discussed in reviews – again, mine included. But that’s an indication of how prevalent the NRA’s beliefs are in Hollywood thrillers and horror movies. We are so used to seeing gun ownership being celebrated that we barely notice it any more.
It’s ironic, then, that Wayne LaPierre and the NRA’s other spokespeople blame Hollywood’s glorification of violence whenever there is a mass shooting. What they ignore is that nearly every American film involving weaponry might as well be an NRA infomercial. On the big screen, guns rarely kill innocent bystanders, they don’t go off by accident, and they aren’t used to slaughter children in classrooms. Pick any action movie at random, and I’d wager it could be advertised using LaPierre’s catchphrase: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” For “A Quiet Place”, the catchphrase would have to read “bad alien” rather than “bad guy” and “good woman” rather than “good guy”, but the point stands.
None of this is new. Jean-Luc Godard and D.W. Griffith are often misquoted as saying “All you need for a movie is a girl and a gun”, but, as far as Hollywood is concerned, even girls are surplus to requirements. But two things have changed recently. The first is that social-media campaigns, such as #OscarsSoWhite, are forcing the industry to reconsider the political impact of its films. The second is that the teenage survivors of the Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in February are keeping gun control in the public consciousness. In the circumstances, it might be time for Krasinski and other directors to ask themselves why they persist in being the NRA’s answer to Leni Riefenstahl. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that action heroes were never seen without a cigarette, but now even James Bond has kicked the habit. Maybe Hollywood could address its gun addiction next. When films like “A Quiet Place” tell us that a shotgun cartridge will answer our prayers and solve our problems, we shouldn’t be so quiet about it.
A Quiet Place is out now