As I came up with the title for this review, I got emotional. It’s been a long, difficult time for me not being able to enjoy a film in a darkened theater. You see, film is my second passion (behind superhero comic books of course), and while going to the cinema is an absolutely necessary sacrifice in the name of public health and safety, I can’t deny I’ve missed it. And A Quiet Place Part II represents the first film I’ve seen in a theater since March of 2020.
The mushy stuff aside it’s also nice to revisit the characters and world first brought to us by director John Krasinski, and writers Bryan Woods and Scott Beck. The Abbotts and their struggles for survival were compelling, and elevated the first A Quiet Place into something way more than a high-concept horror stunt, and into a fantastic film. The film was really framed around the relationship between these characters and the fractures they endured after the death of their youngest member. However what’s interesting about A Quiet Place Part II is how it takes that premise, but almost spins it off into something more resembling The Last of Us conceptually. It’s also less about the relationships between the characters, and a bit more action and horror focused. And there’s honestly nothing wrong with that. The end product is a very fun, highly entertaining suspense film that builds on the world introduced to us in the first film on a grander scale, and keeps you on the edge of your seat, despite it also just being a little less emotional.
Spoiler Warning Starting Now:
Where the first film began on Day 89 of the invasion, the second begins on Day 1. It’s during the first day of invasion that we meet Emmett (Cillian Murphy), a fellow everyday father at a pee-wee baseball game that the Abbotts are attending as well. In a small town like this, everyone’s on a first name basis with everyone, so naturally Emmett is already a friend or acquaintance to the Abbots. All of a sudden the catastrophic invasion happens, and at once it’s both interesting and eerie to see a fully formed small town, with people going about their day suddenly shaken to the core by an Earth-shattering event. It kicks off the film in such an exciting and breathtaking way, and even gives us a little bit of time to spend with Lee (John Krasinski), brief as it might be.
Following that prologue, it abruptly shifts gears and catches up to the finale of the first film, with Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and Regan (Millicent Simmonds) having just killed one of the creatures. There’s now a drive and a mission for the family to leave their farm behind and venture to the next town, partially to get a fresh start because of Lee’s death, but also to continue Lee’s mission to make contact with the outside world, and now, possibly spread the word of how to kill the creatures. On their journey to the next fire stop (as indicated by the fire signals the humans would use to communicate with each other from the first film), they wind up at an abandoned steel factory where Marcus (Noah Jupe), running from a creature, steps into a bear trap and severely injures his leg.
It’s at that point, they are reunited with and rescued by Emmett, who has been surviving there since the invasion. Emmett has lost his children and wife since Day 1, and now holds a deep distrust for others, warning Evelyn that other humans have changed since the creatures arrived. While they rest and recoup for the night, the family hears a song broadcast on their portable radio, and Regan comes up with a plan to trace the signal and use it to broadcast the sonic pitch from her hearing aid across the airwaves so folks can battle the creatures. Knowing Evelyn and Marcus would disagree and insist she stay with them, she sneaks off by herself, prompting Evelyn to beg Emmett to go find her and bring her home. From there the family gets split up and the story follows two narratives: Regan and Emmett’s and Evelyn and Marcus’s.
That’s right. Interestingly enough Krasinski pulls something of an Empire Strikes Back on us, and divides our central heroes on individual quests for survival, to both positive and negative results. One of the strengths of the first film was really exploring the relationships between these family members dealing with a tragedy. You really don’t get to do that here with Evelyn doing her thing, Marcus doing his, and Regan doing hers. You do get a lot of emotion in Emmett’s backstory and his bond with Regan during the events of the movie, but that may be the closest thing to a relationship the film focuses on, though to a degree the relationship between Regan and Lee is still felt and explored throughout the course of the film as well.
Emmett and Regan’s storyline is where I began to see more parallels with The Last of Us than the first film, given it’s essentially a story of a grizzled, embittered man who lost his child, escorting a teenager with the key to saving humanity from point A to point B. This storyline allows for a lot of really phenomenal acting from Cillian Murphy, who proves he’s not just “the creepy guy from every movie in the mid-to-late ’00s ever,” but can do a tremendous job playing flawed, but sympathetic, heroic characters, as he did in 28 Days Later. While we miss Lee, the film never tries to replace Lee’s presence with Emmett, firmly establishing him as a different character, and explicitly reminding you that Lee was one of a kind. But Emmett is an interesting and sympathetic presence who you root for because he tries to do good, despite being disillusioned from the idea of “good” at this point in time.
Simmonds also returns in top form, firmly growing from a child to a real mature young adult in a single film. She retains her stubbornness, but displays levels of courage and ultimate badassery, transforming her from victim to “Ripley” in a few short days. Following their story also provides us with a glimpse at this larger world that was relatively unexplored in the first film, including the addition of actual human antagonists and also legitimate civilizations that exist outside of what we saw on the Abbotts’ farm. The first film really only provided us small glimpses of those, and here we get a much larger picture of how the world has fared since the invasion. It is without a doubt the most interesting and fun half of the movie. It’s also arguably the most engaging and tense half of the film.
The other half of the movie, while suspenseful, is a bit less successful. We get a limited amount of screentime with Evelyn, and quite a bit more with her newborn baby and Marcus. And unfortunately this is where A Quiet Place Part II really suffers from one of the biggest issues I had with the first film: the annoyingly stupid choices made by the kids (or kid in Marcus’s case). While I like Marcus and want him to make it, I can’t help but roll my eyes at some of the stupidest things he does, and how it leads to a lot more trouble for everyone around him. He is pretty much the Jar-Jar Binks of the A Quiet Place franchise. You can only watch an adult in this franchise tell a kid to “stay here” and have them almost immediately disobey them so many times, before it gets tedious and annoying that you start to root for the creatures. And that’s sort of the crux of what this half of the story ends up becoming: Marcus putting everyone in danger, and everyone having to find a way out of it. However, despite all that, I understand why it’s necessary as it does help emphasize Krasinski’s themes about the need for kids to grow up and take matters into their own hands. Marcus takes care of the new baby and also sees some action in the end, and it does become powerful as it intercuts between his actions and Regan’s in her half of the story.
Overall, between both halves of the narrative, you wind up with a very suspenseful, very fun movie about maturation. The spotlight is less on Blunt this time around, and more on the kids because they have to become warriors in a world that is constantly trying to kill them and everyone around them. They need to learn how to survive. And in that regard the film is incredibly poignant. And you can feel that emotion behind the lens as Krasinski really inserts his real-life family man experiences into every frame of the film. But it’s also jump out of your freaking seat scary! You know a jump-scare is coming because everything’s quiet and things have gone along too peacefully for too long, and then — BAM! — it comes, and you still jump! It bleeds excitement! And it’s because in addition to making the film personal, Krasinski also demonstrates the same Hitchcock-ian levels of tension building he exhibited in the first film, that made it such a crowd pleaser. However, in addition to the monsters, he also adds a few scenes with human antagonists that really end up creeping you out further. It’s all very fast-paced and well done.
The only real unfortunate complaint about the film (in addition to me complaining about Marcus above) is that it feels less fresh than the first. And making it feel that way is almost an impossibility because it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation for Krasinski in terms of making it mostly silent. If you copy the “silent film” approach to the first movie, which is something that really set the film apart from most horror films, you run the risk of repeating yourself and forcing the gimmick to grow stale. If you decide to abandon the gimmick in favor of more dialogue driven storytelling and action, you run the risk of making the film conventional. Krasinski is able to blend both here very well, but in doing so leans more towards the latter, making it surprisingly more dialogue driven than the original, whilst also making the film a bit more conventional and less experimental than its predecessor. And that’s honestly fine because it’s just as fun, tense, and suspenseful, and continues the story in a deeper and more fascinating way. But it just doesn’t feel as unique as it was, ultimately making the first film really one-of-a-kind. The other really annoying part was how abruptly the film ends, once more. There’s a ton of unanswered questions when the credits start rolling, particularly as the movie reaches a very pivotal crescendo, but it ultimately just ends, and that feels a bit too much like a tease. I think a lot of folks will like it and be fine with it, and to be honest, I mostly am too (just because I wouldn’t mind A Quiet Place Part III). But as someone who likes closure, it’s frustrating.
That being said, these are all very subjective minor quibbles about a film that’s honestly just as fun and suspenseful as the first, yet deeper and richer in terms of the mythology it’s building for its characters and world. It may lack a bit of the emotional resonance the first had, and a bit of its originality too, but I’m not going to sit here and complain about a good, well-acted film that is part of a high quality franchise so far. A Quiet Place Part II is a worthy successor to the original and a solid next entry for a franchise that, I hope, will continue to progress further (because I really want closure). It’s a film that reminds us why sometimes seeing a story play out on screen in a darkened theater with a room full of people jumping, yelping, and spilling popcorn symbolizes something bigger than just “watching” a movie. It’s the return to a communal experience more tangible and richer in the ways in which it binds us together for 90 minutes in joy, fear, relief, and triumph than anything we would get on a TV screen at home. And it’s for that reason above all that A Quiet Place Part II is truly a worthy justification for us to return to the quiet places in our neighborhoods, that we call “cinemas.”
See you at the movies folks!
Overall Score: B
A Quiet Place Part II hits theaters Friday, May 28.