After a slew of less-than-successful indie films, John Krasinski found his stride as a successful blockbuster director with A Quiet Place in 2018, mainly because he surprised audiences with a creature feature where the main appeal is watching it in a theatrical environment — assuming you’re lucky enough to be surrounded by well-behaved filmgoers. That first film and this second one by proxy practically demand to be experienced collectively in a dark, hushed room where the set design functions as both a world-building device and a jump scare factory where even the slightest change in sound can provoke a mad dash to survival. Put simply, the formula still works. And it might even work a little bit better.
This is surely why Paramount saw it wise to delay the anticipated sequel a full year, even after Krasinksi’s follow-up had premiered right at the dawn of the pandemic, effectively shutting down the movie theater experience for most people, at least in North America. But movie theaters are back (for real this time?) and so is this post-apocalyptic world where sonic-eared aliens mindlessly hunt the last of mankind like a virus only content with devouring anything it comes across. Sound familiar?
If you were dreading Part II to be yet another typical sequel where the least-interesting story questions that don’t really need to be explained get explained for the sake of it, then great news, Krasinski avoids a lot of the troublesome tropes these types of horror sequels tend to get tripped up in, specifically the Jurassic Park problem where every sequel feels the need to top the previous one with bigger, badder creatures that shake up the rules of the franchise to an almost dizzying degree. The only thing disorienting about A Quiet Place Part II by comparison is how fast and short it is, clocking in at just 97 minutes, and that’s with an extended prologue that lays out how the apocalypse really began for this family, practically in real-time.
It’s a great sequence, but also an unnecessary one in the grand scheme, beyond satisfying curiosity in an admittedly tense, gripping fashion. The prologue also serves as a somewhat efficient recap of what this world is like and what this family has endured since the very beginning, as we don’t get any other reminders for the events of the last film beyond some visual cues and your hopefully sharp memory. The sequel picks up directly after the first movie, as the Abbott family ventures out of their desolated farm in search of a new community where they can find a semblance of safety in the wake of their fallen patriarch (Krasinski, who gets a small role this time around and just in the intro).
Evelyn (Emily Blunt) still carries the pain from that night, along with their hope for a better future, quite literally in the form of her newborn baby — you know, the one she literally just gave birth to a day earlier, but movie logic reigns around these parts. There’s also the family’s eldest teenaged daughter, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), who has a newfound determination to protect her mother and siblings in place of her father, pushing her to attempt even more dangerous ventures despite being deaf, a handicap against creatures that hunt based on sound. But look, as someone in the deaf community, it still absolutely rules to see someone use their disability as a weapon to overcome even the harshest challenges. After watching both of these movies, I definitely don’t look at my hearing aids quite the same way.
Perpetual middle child Marcus (Noah Jupe) continues to be one of the film’s more under-utilized characters, as there’s only a bare outline of a character arc for him that gets resolved in a somewhat left-field way. This is mainly because the film chooses to focus far more on Emmett (Cillian Murphy), a family friend briefly seen in the prologue who reluctantly takes in the family when they stumble upon his refuge. It would be easy to call the film cynical for replacing the middle-aged father figure with someone new for marketing purposes, sure, but Krasinski wisely makes Emmett more of a surrogate for the last vestiges of humanity. He’s bitter and hopeless about how much has been lost, and for much of the film it’s truly unclear what his true intentions might be, which again speaks to how smart the film is about ratcheting up the tension more organically than other sequels in, or adjacent to this genre. We care less about Emmett because we barely know him or trust him, but this helps make the movie’s world feel all the more dangerous and unpredictable. It’s just a shame all this seems to come at the expense of other characters having time to grow and develop.
Like in the first film, the aesthetics of this world are pretty straightforward and unremarkable, though there’s nothing quite as laughable as that white board this time around. It’s a stripped down wasteland in terms of flavor and intrigue, and this is certainly a less surprising movie than some of its contemporaries. But the execution here is so tight and geared toward making the audience feel something on the thin line between heart-wrenching fear and unrelenting optimism that things will work out. It’s a bit more intense and all over the place (literally), but it’s also less heartfelt. Probably because so much of the limited runtime keeps the characters separated, and Marcus in particular is missing a scene or two establishing his arc, which pays off somewhat better than it deserves.
Still, it’s an abrupt ending, and one that obviously demands yet another sequel. But it’s hard to complain about a franchise based on an original idea that feels tailor-made to the theatrical experience. After a year of uncertainty and doubt that the big screen impact of a big-budget action horror would ever return at all, let alone this year, A Quiet Place Part II completely earns its right to be a welcome return to the place where movies can really be movies.
A Quiet Place Part II opens in theaters on May 28 from Paramount Pictures.
Photo: Paramount Pictures