The justification for making A Quiet Place Part II is simple: the first film was about what brave and strong parents Lee and Evelyn Abbott (real-life married couple John Krasinski and Emily Blunt) were in the face of a world in which murderous alien monsters with extra-sensitive hearing had taken over everything and murdered most humans. The year-delayed sequel is about their children—the deaf young woman Regan (the outstanding Millicent Simmonds) and son Marcus (Noah Jupe from Honey Boy), who is still deeply shaken after [spoiler alert] just having seen his father sacrificing himself to save his kids (in the previous film). The new movie also seeks to expand the world beyond the Abbotts’ now-destroyed homestead, but that doesn’t turn out to be nearly as interesting as what these children are up to.
Before returning director Krasinski (who also wrote the screenplay this time around; the first film was credited to Scott Beck and Bryan Woods) dives into what happens immediately after the first film, he opens Part II with what might be the finest sequence in either film, a flashback to the day the aliens first invaded Earth, when no one understood that the creatures were basically just one big ear and couldn’t see anything. The extended scene is an exercise in rapidly rising tension, panic, chaos, and the realization that to survive, the Abbotts have to adapt quickly to never speaking again. Having a deaf daughter means the family all knew sign language already, so they could communicate with each other better than most. The sequence also introduces us to family friend Emmett (Cillian Murphy), whose son plays little league with Marcus, clearly terrified of how fast the pitches are coming at him.
The film then jumps back up to right after the events of the first film (just under a year and a half after what many refer to as “that day”). The family (which also includes a newborn) is packing up the essentials as their home is both burning and flooding from the alien attack in the previous movie. For the first time in either, we see them venture beyond the quieting sand they’ve put down on pathways leading away from their house as they venture out to see what else is out in the nearby world. They’ve seen smoke from a nearby fire atop some structure a few miles away, so they set that as their destination and find Emmett, now living alone and broken in an underground space beneath a factory. He’s set up traps that assure that anyone approaching will attract the attention of the aliens, and we’re not sure at first if he doesn’t want company or only wants company that knows how to handle themselves while under attack.
He updates Evelyn on the sad account of losing his son and wife, while warning her that the people who have survived to this point aren’t worth finding. The Quiet Place films are enjoyable to watch on several levels, but I get a kick out of seeing how people have found ways to be silent doing things that should make noise, as well as finding a way to weaponize sound when necessary. A gun can be deadly, but the sound of a gun is almost certainly death to its shooter. But using sound as a weapon goes both ways as Regan constructs an amplifier that causes feedback when used with her hearing aid, and it effectively paralyzes the aliens with their heads wide open, making them much easier to kill.
Upon discovering a repeating radio transmission, Regan becomes determined to find the nearby source and eventually ventures out on her own. With Marcus injured, Evelyn can’t leave him alone, so she begs Emmett to find her daughter. This new, makeshift family splits up with no promise that they’ll ever see each other again. Regan’s adventure is far more interesting and revealing than Marcus and Evelyn’s story, but both paths take the characters to uncharted territories, so the fear and scares are heightened and frequent.
Some may be bothered by the fact that this story takes place just a few days after Lee’s death, yet no one seems to take the time to mourn him. But like active war times or any other circumstances where death may be imminent, it’s not difficult to understand that there’s simply no time for extended grieving. There are brief moments in A Quiet Place Part II where the characters pause momentarily and simply weep. They aren’t together when it happens, but it does happen, and suddenly we’re snapped out of the moment just long enough to remember that these kids miss their dad more than we’ll ever know and Evelyn misses her husband perhaps even more, especially with a newborn eager to make all kinds of noises.
As much as I appreciated the expanded universe of this film, Part II drifts dangerously close to Walking Dead territory in its final third, as we quickly discover that the creatures aren’t the only danger in the world any longer. In science fiction, discovering that the real monsters are us is a decades-old trope that the likes of George A. Romero used in every one of his zombie movies, and it’s not that Krasinski doesn’t use it well here, it just doesn’t feel like an original idea. Additional supporting players are introduced played by the likes of Scoot McNairy and Djimon Hounsou, but I don’t want to ruin all of the film’s surprises about how helpful these new characters are or are not. Krasinski expertly structures a few key action sequences as parallel moments, edited together quite effectively to maximize tension. And while the final act may not feel especially unique, it’s still terrifying at times.
Admittedly, what A Quiet Place Part II is missing most of all, compared to the last movie, is that sense of discovery, both the Abbotts’ world and the experience of watching a movie with a crowd of people afraid to eat their popcorn too loud. I watched Part II in Dolby Atmos, and it is not a quiet movie, if only because the aliens are so damn loud when they scream. But I still loved seeing it with a crowd pretty excited about being back in a theater again, and this is a film that simply will not work with any of the potential distractions of home viewing. Not unlike seeing Godzilla vs. Kong a few weeks ago in a theater, there’s something about going back to in-person screenings with characters we know and admire that makes a difference for whatever reason. It helps ease us back into a familiar setting by being with old friends, both on the screen and in the audience. I recognize A Quiet Place Part II’s shortcomings but I still very much think it’s worth checking out.
A Quiet Place Part II opens in theaters in Chicago on Friday, May 28.
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