SALT LAKE CITY — What is it like to be hearing impaired in a world where the slightest sound could get you killed?
That’s the dilemma facing Utah actress Millicent Simmonds’ character, Regan, in “A Quiet Place.” The film, released in April, is set in a post-apocalyptic world where blind creatures with hypersensitive hearing have decimated Earth’s population. In this frightening world, silence is survival.
Consequently, “A Quiet Place” is one of the quietest films to dominate the box office: Off a $17 million production budget, “A Quiet Place” earned a surprising $50 million in its opening weekend and has grossed more than $180 million, according to Box Office Mojo. (It was also released digitally this past Tuesday and comes out on Blu-ray/DVD July 10.)
Erik Aadahl, one of the film’s sound editors, told the Deseret News how Millicent Simmonds’ real-life experiences as a deaf person fostered the film’s boldest sound editing choices.
“She struck me so powerfully in the script as a character that would be experiencing what this family is going through and what this universe is like in a really unique way,” Aadahl said. “What is it like to be in a world where you can’t make a sound, but you can’t really hear?”
The resumes of Aadahl and his “A Quiet Place” co-editor Ethan Van der Ryn cover a lot of sonic ground. Aadahl has worked with Terrence Malick on “The Tree of Life, ” Bryan Singer on “X-Men 2” and Ben Affleck on “Argo.” Van der Ryn’s credits include the “Lord of the Rings” franchise and “Saving Private Ryan.” Jointly, they’ve worked on “Godzilla,” the “Kung Fu Panda” series and a number of Michael Bay films. “A Quiet Place,” Aadahl said, feels like a culmination of these diverse projects.
In “A Quiet Place,” Aadahl and Van der Ryn take audiences inside Simmonds’ head multiple times, hearing things as Simmonds herself hears them. Sometimes that means total silence — which the film utilizes on three separate occasions; Aadahl said it’s “the scariest thing you can do with sound” — sometimes it’s low, dampened internal noises, “like the blood moving through your veins and the muffled rumble of your breath,” he described.
Capturing the essence of that internal noise took some work. According to Aadahl, Simmonds described this noise to her mother, who then communicated that to the film’s director and co-star, John Krasinski. From there, Krasinski relayed it to Aadahl and Van der Ryn.
“And obviously, we have what one might just call ‘normal’ hearing, so it’s hard for us to know exactly what Millie is experiencing with a cochlear implant,” Aadahl explained. In other interviews, Aadahl mentioned how in post-production they utilized the Neumann KU 100, a special microphone shaped like a human head, to capture the way Simmonds and her character would experience sound while wearing cochlear implants.
“And Millie’s mom, when she heard the film, gave us really great feedback, said, ‘Yes, that’s what she described to me,’” Aadahl said.
“Sound is a really powerfully potent tool for putting an audience member into the shoes of a character,” he added. “So this was the perfect way to do that, for Millie’s character. And it was really important for us to be faithful to what that experience would be like.”