Does anyone else think the first A Quiet Place was overrated? Upon its release in 2018, the John Krasinski and Emily Blunt-led movie was greeted warmly by critics and audiences, but when you stripped aside the fact that Jim Halpert from The Office directed it (and starred too as an extremely competent alpha survivalist dad, doing his damnedest to erase poor, mild Jim from our memory), it was a pretty conventional B-horror movie.
Based around a single gimmick—blind aliens who hunt their human prey by sound, thus making staying quiet essential—the film was full of contrivances designed to get its central Abbott family from one terrifying predicament to another (the worst offender being the Abbotts conceiving and having a baby—yes, a crying baby—in the midst of an apocalypse). But it also did achieve a certain amount of suspense through its premise and Krasinski’s taut direction, making audiences think they were watching something fresh, even as the movie relied on tried and true tricks the more it went on.
Since A Quiet Place made a gazillion dollars against a sensible budget, a sequel was naturally put on the fast track with Krasinski directing again and writing it solo as well (he rewrote the first film’s original screenplay, which was penned by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck). Yet A Quiet Place Part II, which on the surface is a tense and often effective ride, gets dragged down like its predecessor by the thinness of its story and its world-building. That and the actions of the characters, who once again do everything possible to put themselves in danger.
A Quiet Place Part II begins with a flashback to the very first day of the alien invasion that has annihilated most of human civilization, but there’s absolutely no reason for us to see this except as an excuse for Krasinski to again portray the soon-to-be deceased Lee Abbott one more time. The sequence, which starts with the Abbott family attending a Little League game in their picture-perfect, rural American town—also briefly introduces slightly oddball neighbor Emmett (Cillian Murphy), although he makes almost no initial impact.
As with much of the backstory in these films, the reveal of the invasion’s first day doesn’t really offer any context for the events: the townspeople see what looks like a flaming meteor streaking across the sky and before you know it, the aliens are on the ground plowing through civilians like monstrous weed wackers. Krasinski never delves into questions about the creatures and how they got here, but to be fair, the daylight attack still works on a metaphorical level because of its suddenness and ferocity.
Flash forward to “Day 474” and we’re with the Abbotts (minus Lee, of course) as they prepare to leave their ruined farmhouse. The battle that the end of the first film hinted at is over, with dead creatures scattered around the still-burning and flooded home. Evelyn (Emily Blunt), son Marcus (Noah Jupe), older deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), and their newborn baby (whose name we didn’t catch) hit the road, walking as quietly as possible in the direction of a distant fire signal that could indicate more human survivors.
With creatures nipping at their lacerated heels as they reach a abandoned steel mill, the Abbotts discover that the place is inhabited by Emmett, now a fearful loner who has lost his own family and wants the Abbotts out by the next day (one clever detail is Emmett’s use of a furnace as a hiding place, with a stopwatch to indicate how much time is left before the limited air runs out). But before he can kick them out, Regan—armed with the makeshift sonic weapon created in the first film—ventures out on her own, seeking the source of a different, more promising signal.
Although Regan evolves in this story into a more confident, mature leader (the same can’t be said of Blunt’s character, unfortunately), she still makes the first of several questionable decisions that artificially propel the story forward. The cardinal rule at this point should be “never split up,” but the Abbotts continually ignore that sound advice.
One could argue that Regan’s journey is one of growth and necessity, as are some of Evelyn’s actions. The same cannot be said for poor Marcus, who makes the brunt of the movie’s bad choices simply because the story needs to put several family members in danger at the same time. Emmett makes some ill-thought decisions too, but at least he gets to evolve as a character, with the skillful Murphy making his progression logical and compelling.
Fortunately, Murphy, Blunt, Jupe, and especially Simmonds are all on their game here, making the Abbotts and Emmett effortlessly watchable even as the story itself takes predictable and contrived turns. But without the novelty of the premise to paper over the story’s flaws like it did in the first movie, A Quiet Place Part II can’t quite overcome the weaknesses of the narrative or the world that Krasinski builds. Instead it bounces predictably from one shock sequence to the next while introducing new elements to the story and then moving on without fully exploring them.
Aided by his cast, there’s no question that Krasinski continues to grow as a craftsman behind the camera. Even if the scares are more conventional, the director wrings as much as he can out of them in terms of suspense and dread—we found ourselves white-knuckling the theater seat armrests (yes, we did see this in a theater), even as we knew exactly where the scene was going. The sound design and music add immeasurably to the sense of terror as well, and the creatures remain disturbingly designed even if we see a lot more of them, allowing their CG seams to show a bit more.
A Quiet Place Part II tries to say something about the next generation taking over from the one before it, a theme which benefits from Krasinski’s minimalist approach to story. But at the same time, the movie so blatantly sets up a sequel that one leaves A Quiet Place Part II with the feeling that the movie has been just an extremely well-made and often gripping time-filler instead of a genuine expansion of the tale set up by the first film.
As a final note, A Quiet Place Part II was actually supposed to come out on March 18, 2020, and there was even a press junket and world premiere held in New York City on March 8—literally days before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. As a result, the film was among the first major studio pictures to see its release date postponed, with the movie shifted several times before finally settling into its final arrival on May 28 of this year. The movie will also show up on the Paramount+ streaming network 45 days after its theatrical release. But as restrictions loosen, we might cautiously suggest catching this one on the big screen if you’re so inclined.
A Quiet Place Part II opens in theaters on May 28.