Written by: John Krasinski (screenplay), Scott Beck (characters)
Directed by: John Krasinski
Starring: Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, and Cillian Murphy
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Silence is not enough.
Conventional wisdom says a sequel should go bigger: maybe there’s something about human nature that expects or craves escalation from a story’s continuation. The stakes need to be bigger, the scope more epic, the plot a little busier—there just needs to be more. James Cameron arguably set the most famous template for this with Aliens, a title that says everything you need to know. And it was certainly easy to imagine that sequel to A Quiet Place taking such a route since it ended with a pack of bloodthirsty creatures descending on the family farm, hinting that the next step might involve Emily Blunt blowing away hordes of monsters. I would certainly watch that movie, but star/writer/director John Krasinski has something else in mind for A Quiet Place Part II, a sequel that exhibits the same sharp restraint as its predecessor. In keeping with the film’s premise, the follow-up is pitched at a hushed tenor as it expands on its story and mythology in the way you expect from a sequel, resulting in one of the more organic continuations in recent memory. A Quiet Place II feels like it's simply turned the page to the next chapter to depict the further exploits of its characters as they pick up the pieces and move on with their lives.
Technically, it looks back before moving forward with a prologue that captures the first day of the apocalyptic outbreak, when the creatures descended upon the Abbott family’s idyllic, upstate New York town right in the middle of a Little League game. Considering we know the fates of the main characters, it’s a harrowing sequence that deftly re-establishes the universe’s rules and stakes, capturing huddled masses cowering within store buildings to evade the monsters. Ringing cell phones become a death sentence, while a trip down main street becomes a frenzied escape plan.
Krasinski seems to get all of those sequel impulses out of his system here—it’s a bigger, louder, busier sequence than anything the first movie offered—before he cuts back to the moment it ended, with the surviving members of the Abbott family down in their bunker, the splattered remains of the creature scattered across the room. After gathering together their belongings, they spy a distant fire and embark on a perilous trek in search of fellow survivors that leads them to Emmett (Cillian Murphy), an old friend (we glimpse him in the prologue, just before things go to shit) who lives in a veritable doomsday bunker. He’s also distrusting of anyone who’s survived and is hesitant to let the Abbotts stay until an opportunity arises to get the word out about Regan’s (Millicent Simmonds) method for dispatching the creatures.
Technically, A Quiet Place II does offer the kind of escalation expected from a sequel, but only in the sense that it’s no longer a single-location thriller once the characters eventually split up. But the effect is largely the same, particularly when Evelyn hunkers down in Emmett’s bunker with her newborn and her oldest son Marcus (Noah Jupe), now suffering from a gnarly leg wound after stepping into a bear trap. Krasinski’s script introduces some clever mechanisms here, like an airtight safe the characters can hide in to elude the creatures— but only for a limited time before the oxygen runs out. When you see Emmett’s makeshift method of keeping the latch propped just enough to leave the door pried open, you know it’s going to spell trouble later on. Once again, Krasinski is a master of subtlety and efficiency: because dialogue is still minimal, characters don’t explicitly spell any of this stuff out, so the audience is almost complicit in the tension building by putting the pieces together on their own and imagining what doom awaits.
Things are no less claustrophobic or harrowing for Emmett and Regan when they set off in search of possible salvation. They find themselves crowding into abandoned train cars to hide from the creatures, doing their best to communicate since Emmett isn’t fluent in sign language. It’s a dimension that not only adds to the suspense but also serves as the backbone for a bond that starts on tenuous grounds before becoming the film’s ultimate stakes. By joining together, each finds the strength to overcome their doubts: Emmett must shake off his cynical worldview after losing his entire family, while Regan has to prove she’s worthy of carrying on her father’s quest to defeat the creatures. Like its predecessor, A Quiet Place II offers a refreshing rejoinder to the typical post-apocalyptic doom-and-gloom landscape, which so often insists on unrelenting misery. A glimmer of hope always lurks on the margins of these movies, whether it’s in Lee and Evelyn sharing a dance together in the first film or Emmett coming to understand why Regan is so driven.
But these glimmers are certainly tested along the way because Krasinski dedicates all of the film’s pot-boiling energy to torturously turning the screws against the characters and the audience. A gimmick working a second time around is a rarity (there’s a reason we’d rather forget about Speed 2, for example), but A Quiet Place II is arguably just as nerve-jangling as its predecessor, if not more so. It’s not just that Krasinski has once again orchestrated some nice jolts—it’s the way the entire film moves with a purpose, with each new development adding some layer of uncertainty or suspense. Even the casting of Murphy is a masterstroke. I know I can’t be the only one who’s distrusted his screen presence ever since Red Eye, and so much of this film’s effectiveness relies on his potential for breaking bad at any given moment. Likewise, the presence of other, less hospitable survivors, the mysterious radio broadcast from a distant island, Marcus’s leg wound, that airtight vault, and the insinuation the Emmett is hiding something in his bunker all work in concert to sew doubt and suspense.
All of it comes to a head in a magnificent triptych of terror, as the film cuts between Marcus’s exploration of the bunker, Evelyn’s quest for medicine, and Emmett and Regan’s encounter with a band of barely human scavengers. Editor Michael Shawver deftly cuts between each scene, carefully prodding the audience to the edge of their seats. The boisterous prologue might exhibit the most panache these films have seen yet, but it’s this sequence that really captures what works about A Quiet Place. Appropriately enough, it’s not all about noise and showy bravura but rather Krasinski’s exacting sense of pace: no shot or beat ever lingers longer than it should, and this sequence is a masterclass of wringing suspense simply by cutting at exactly the right moment. Perhaps even more impressively, it’s not even the film’s climax, and Krasinski and Shawver pull off the same trick again by staging a climactic, parallel showdown between the characters and the creatures in two separate locations.
A Quiet Place II might not necessarily be about going bigger, but it’s definitely all about doubling down on what worked about the original. Sometimes, this is just what sequels need to do: offer more of the same while finding just enough wrinkles to feel fresh. This one finds that in the third act revelation of other survivors, at which point it looks like Krasinski will go the full Romero by revealing that the true monsters here are the marauders surviving in the wasteland. But in what might be the film’s best move, it doesn’t dwell on this beat and quickly diverts off into another direction. In doing so, the film takes on an unexpected resonance: A Quiet Place II was among the first films to be delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and here it is, now among the first films to finally see release as the light at the end of the tunnel grows ever nearer.
As such, the film’s most gasp-worthy moment simply involves the sight of relative normalcy when some characters stumble upon an enclave seemingly untouched by the creatures’ presence. Krasinski and company couldn’t have known it at the time, but it’s unwittingly the key moment of A Quiet Place II because we all recognize this longing for normalcy. And because we recognize it, the stakes at the end of the film couldn’t be more potent—it’s no longer a fight simply for survival but a fight for a return to normalcy, or whatever counts as normalcy since these characters have lost so much.
Not that this one is in a rush to get to that new normal. Like its predecessor, A Quiet Place II also knows the virtue in leaving the audiences wanting a little bit more. We’re left once again with the implication of a bigger, busier sequel that could follow; however, if this one is any indication, I wouldn’t take any bets on Krasinski being content to do so. A Quiet Place II exhibits an understated sort of boldness that comes with sticking to your guns and recognizing what works. As much as we like to champion big, ambitious swings, there's something to be said for this kind of assured filmmaking, too.
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