Ethan Van Der Ryn and Erik Aadahl are back to terrify audiences with just the slightest noise
(Warning: This piece includes minor spoilers for “A Quiet Place — Part II”).
The opening shots of “A Quiet Place – Part II” do not immediately give away that we are witnessing the day the Abbott family was forced into silence by deadly creatures from another world. And that makes it all the more shocking when Lee Abbott’s truck arrives on a seemingly deserted street, the sound of its engine and the slam of its door echoing through the theater with an unnatural, ominous loudness.
It is the first of countless sounds developed by the film’s sound team, led by Ethan Van Der Ryn and Erik Aadahl, who earned acclaim with the original 2018 film for turning even the simplest of sounds – crows flying or a glass bottle breaking – into potential triggers for another heart-pounding alien attack.
“It was so thrilling for us to work on that prologue where the audience knows what is coming and even the most ordinary sounds bring a sense of dread,” Van Der Ryn told TheWrap. “With every director we’ve worked with, we are always telling them that sound is 50% of the film experience, but in these movies in particular that becomes very evident and this was a great experience to come back to.”
“A Quiet Place” earned Van Der Ryn and Erik Aadahl their third Oscar nomination as a sound editing team, adding to a career that spans some of the biggest blockbusters of the past quarter-century. Together and individually, the two have worked on films like “Titanic,” the “Transformers” and the “Kung Fu Panda” series,” and the upcoming “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” Van Der Ryn has also won two Oscars for his sound editing on “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” and the 2005 remake of “King Kong.”
While sound editors compile the different sounds used in a film, a creature feature like “A Quiet Place” brings the additional challenge of creating new sounds entirely for monsters that don’t exist in reality. To create the roars and hisses of the aliens that hunt the Abbotts, Van Der Ryn and Aadahl found the answer in an unexpected place: a stun gun.
“The creatures use strong hearing to hunt, so we started with the idea of replicating actual animals like dolphins and bats that use echolocation to observe their surroundings,” Van Der Ryn said. “We felt it would have been too obvious to use the ‘clicks’ that those sort of animals use as the basis for the creatures, but we found that when you record the clicks made by a stun gun and slow them down, they create this disturbing, otherworldly sound that was perfect for the film.”
Van Der Ryn and Aadahl also worked with director John Krasinski to use the sound design to put the audience directly in the shoes of the characters, using techniques like playing Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” when a character puts radio headphones onto another character’s ears.
This technique was particularly used on the film’s main deaf protagonist, Regan, played by Millicent Simmonds. While jump scares often use loud bursts of sound to shock people, “A Quiet Place – Part II” goes in the opposite direction as Van Der Ryn and Aadahl, working with mixer Brandon Proctor, cut out all sound in multiple scenes to show the terror through Regan’s perspective, making the sudden appearance of one of the creatures even more frightening when it is shown that Regan can’t hear its approaching stomps and roars.
“When we looked at John [Krasinski]’s script, we were certain that he was thinking about the sound at every moment because we could see so many opportunities built into the story for us to switch perspectives sonically,” Van Der Ryn said. “We saw it right at the beginning during the alien invasion, when everything is so cacophonous and terrifying and then we switch immediately to Regan’s perspective of just silence, and there’s such a powerful dynamic shift there that we really couldn’t do in the first movie because there weren’t as many scenes with such a sense of chaos.”
Van Der Ryn and Aadahl are currently working on post-production for “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” having finished “A Quiet Place – Part II” before the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the film’s release back over a year and turned it into one of the blockbusters that movie theaters are relying on to bring audiences back. They say they’ve been pleased to see the strong box office numbers for their film, as they believe their work is best enjoyed with a movie theater’s surround-sound system.
“What I love about cinema is that it puts the audience directly into the experience of a character, and sound is a key tool to doing that,” Aadahl said. “That tool can be diluted if you’re watching it on an iPad or in a house with the dishwasher on. In a theater, you are getting exactly the experience we want you to have, and I think people are still valuing that.”
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