‘A Quiet Place Part II’ Drops the Silence for an Expanded Horror Experience
Lately it’s always been the end of the world at the movies. The question is how well does the filmmaker make the apocalypse happen. 2018’s “A Quiet Place” was that rare horror film that found a way to make an old idea feel new because of the technique employed. Actor-writer-director John Krasinski had started with our universal dread of a violent alien invasion, or better put, when the aliens invade but we can’t really see them. He then took out sound and built tension around everyone needing to communicate via sign language. It was a rather brilliant trick that emphasized the visuals and made for a viciously fun time. Now Krasinski returns with “A Quiet Place Part II,” where he makes the smart move of not trying to repeat the gimmick wholeheartedly. The world of the original is expanded, there’s a bit more noise and the jump scares are just as effective.
The story very literally picks up where the first movie ended, just as Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt) cocked a shotgun after blowing away one of the blind aliens who are rampaging the local farmlands, using sound as their sensor to attack any unlucky humans. If you may recall, the Abbotts were surviving alone on a farm rigged with sensors and lights until the invaders made it in and killed father and husband Lee (Krasinski). Now Evelyn is widowed and responsible for children Marcus (Noah Jupe), Regan (Millicent Simmonds) as well as a newborn baby son, who for safety is kept sealed in a small box with an oxygen supply. In the last film the deaf Regan discovered that a feedback emission from her hearing aid assaults the aliens’ senses, rendering them helpless. Now armed with an amplifier, she follows Evelyn and Marcus out into the wilderness as they seek new shelter. Beyond their farm the alien creatures are still roaming and the wandering family comes into contact with Emmett (Cillian Murphy), an old friend now hiding out in an abandoned factory. Then a radio transmission from somewhere beyond blasts the song “Beyond the Sea,” and Regan becomes convinced it’s a signal from other survivors.
If the first “A Quiet Place” was driven by the intensity of its idea, the sequel is more of a visceral experience based on rapidly-paced action. Now it is becoming more apparent that Krasinski has a wider storyline mapped out, going beyond the idea of an entrapped family in one space. The opening scenes of the movie take place further back in the past and give us a look at the first day the aliens arrived and all hell broke loose. There’s an Americana meets “War of the Worlds” feel to a baseball game interrupted by a giant, flaming object streaking across the sky. With intended pun, that’s one of the quieter moments in “A Quiet Place Part II.” There are nerve-shredding scenes of characters driving through streets avoiding alien assaults and gut-tightening horrors that leap out of the screen’s corners. As simple and campy as the actual plot is, some compared the first movie to the classic age of silent cinema. Here Krasinski seems to be taking notes from movies like James Cameron’s “Aliens.” Some set pieces work for pure thrills like a chamber where Emmett hides Evelyn and the kids, but if the aliens ever break through the roof and the hatch is sealed then you’re likely to suffocate. Krasinski also throws bear traps and sniper fire at the audience without mercy.
What makes it work is that Krasinski has studied the right directors and brings a sense of artistry to the material. Cinematographer Polly Morgan, a veteran of shows like “Legion,” helps Krasinski again visualize this concept with baroque shots and exhilarating wide pans. Composer Marco Beltrami returns and keeps a menacing orchestral rhythm. Story-wise Krasinski plays around with recognizable dystopian ideas that would feel tired out if the film wasn’t so well-produced. Emmett warns Evelyn that civilization has basically collapsed (of course), and it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. Once “Beyond the Sea” fills the airwaves Regan gets restless and ventures out on her own to find where the signal is coming from. A reluctant Emmett follows and we get a visual sense of what lies beyond their confined zone. Eventually the narrative really takes on the feel of classic science fiction, including an island where survivors of the alien attack, led by an always welcome Djimon Hounsou, have tried to preserve some kind of suburban lifestyle. In contrast to this there’s also a clan of mute scavengers inland who look like refugees from “Mad Max,” but have an eerie impact in how they ruthlessly take and kill to survive. Krasinski, who seems to espouse a rugged American ethos, is giving us that age-old lesson that it’s a jungle out there.
The limitations of this concept begin to truly show in the ending, which is nearly a point-by-point repeat of how the first film closed. It’s still a riveting sequence with excellent craft, gore and terror. And the aliens have yet to be further developed beyond a rampaging species plucked out of a bored student’s sketchbook. Where do they come from? Did they command a ship? If so, then why do they display the intelligence of an angry neighborhood guard dog? Still, “A Quiet Place Part II” is a worthy sequel that doesn’t necessarily surpass the originality of its predecessor, but provides just as much of a well-made ride. Krasinski again proves he’s an excellent genre filmmaker who can deliver excitement that thrives on quality. The performances are all strong, especially Emily Blunt, who takes on a leadership role, and Millicent Simmonds, who proves here she is one of the best young actors around. They don’t just evoke terror, but emotional depth and the real stress of hard choices. The final shot leaves no doubt there will be a Part III. This chapter manages to still keep interest peaked.
“A Quiet Place Part II” releases May 28 in theaters nationwide.