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Millicent Simmonds’ Reagan Abbott follows the train tracks to an abandoned train car. Carefully, quietly, she makes her way through the metal tube, attentive and cautiously taking in her surroundings, but her eyes purposefully avoid the dead corpses slouched in the seats and laying in discarded heaps upon the floor. A flock of birds who’d been nesting in this tomb scatter, providing a jump scare for Reagan and an audience that has already seen too much, already clamped their mouths shut too tight, already held their breaths far too often and have experienced a slight wave of dizziness as a result. It’s one thing to follow adults in peril, but it’s a whole other thing to watch children forced to run the gantlet for their survival. Yet, as A Quiet Place Part II makes clear, it is only through the actions of children that any of us has a chance of survival at all.
In A Quiet Place (2018), director-screenwriter-actor John Krasinski announced himself as a surprising and necessary new voice in horror. Upon seeing that film, it became apparent that A Quiet Place, and the character Lee Abbott, were Krasinski’s means of confronting his own anxieties about parenthood, being a good provider, and how vulnerable your children should see you be, something further confirmed during that first film’s press tour. Krasinski managed to both reflect on the archetypical movie father of the 1970s and ’80s, which makes up a significant amount of A Quiet Place‘s DNA, and dispel a number of those tropes in order to present a modern treatise on parenthood. Lee’s wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt) is equally important in what is a true partnership before she takes center stage in the last act.
Though that first film ended with Evelyn racking a shotgun with more of the mysterious alien creatures on the horizon, A Quiet Place Part II doesn’t push her character into Ellen Ripley in Aliens (1986) territory. She’s not an almost superhuman soldier. Rather, she’s an incredibly strong mother who makes the survival of her family her priority. She’s a parent first, and alien slayer second, and that distinction is important and humanizing. In fact, what makes A Quiet Place Part II just as good, if not slightly better than its predecessor, is that it doesn’t fall into the trap too many sequels do by going too big too fast and forgetting about its characters. New information is given a slow drip, and the radius of the world is expanded, but Krasinski is cautiously pushing forward, allowing each defeat and win their space to shape the characters onscreen.
Although Evelyn and her children, Reagan and Marcus (Noah Jupe), are slightly better prepared for their close encounters, they aren’t suddenly different people in this installment. They make mistakes, sometimes hasty and foolish ones, born out of putting their family first, which is far more interesting than following overly conditioned characters who can suddenly mow down creatures that were shown to be a real and tough threat in the first film. So, while we love Aliens and can clearly attest to its importance as one of the great movie sequels, John Krasinski isn’t aiming for James Cameron in an attempt to ape the first film.
To that point, Evelyn plays less of a central role in this film, with Millicent Simmonds’ Reagan serving as the lead and a reason to reclaim hope for those, like the Abbott’s former family friend Emmett (Cillian Murphy), who believes “the people that are left, aren’t the kind of people worth saving.” If the first film was about grappling with being the parent your children need, then A Quiet Place Part II is centered on having the faith that you’ve given your children everything they need to survive on their own. A Quiet Place Part II is about the fear of facing your children walking out of the nest, and knowing, as Evelyn puts it to Marcus, they have everything they need.
There is a selflessness present in the arcs of both Reagan and Marcus, ones that are contrasted with the adults who remain in the world. The Man on the Island (Djimon Hounsou) tells Emmett about what he saw on the first day the aliens arrived. People quickly figured out that the creatures couldn’t swim, so boats were prepared by the National Guard, with the intent to set up island colonies. There were 12 boats, enough for everyone. But people’s self-interest, their inability to look out for anyone besides themselves and their own led to a stampede and screaming, which led to an attack by the aliens and the destruction of most of the boats before they could leave. Only two boats got out unscathed. That story is crucial to the larger thematic point Krasinski is making with these films. It’s not aliens that make parenthood and teaching your children survival instincts such a frightening prospect, it’s human greed and neglect for a world in which there are enough resources, enough means of communication for survival, but not enough people actually taking a moment and finding compassion for their neighbor.
A Quiet Place Part II suggests that that compassion, while perhaps no longer instinctual, isn’t lost. Our children can make us better, and do the same for our neighbors, and strangers as well. The thing about Krasinski that makes him such an interesting horror filmmaker is that it’s clear he has a deep interest in people, and that’s certainly not the case for every filmmaker. Last year’s web show, Some Good News, hosted by Krasinski during the pandemic may be a far cry from the sci-fi horror franchise, but Krasinski brings that same genuine curiosity about humanity to his films. It’s not the monsters that make A Quiet Place Part II, or even the monstrous nature of man, signaled by the appearance of a band of feral humans who point to some other mystery within this universe, that have made this franchise a standout. It’s that A Quiet Place and A Quiet Place Part II prioritize ordinary human beings and their stories, and even in the midst of tragedy and brutality, gives hope a voice.
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