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The silence of a darkened theater invariably is the best place to experience a horror movie, and that was doubly true of John Krasinski’s runaway 2018 hit A Quiet Place, in which a family’s bid for survival depends on them remaining unheard by blind alien predators with heightened auditory powers. Taking on solo screenwriting credit in his taut follow-up, director Krasinski again foregrounds that disorienting premise of a modern world in which noise can get you killed, as the same characters this time desperately struggle to protect one another without their fallen paterfamilias. It’s another breathless chamber piece, expertly crafted to pack dread into every nerve-rattling sound.
The reprieves of a family meal, a game of Monopoly or a romantic late-night dance are gone in A Quiet Place Part II, leaving more space for the lacerating sorrows of the first film to echo. Having lost the rural farmhouse whose familiarity gave them a fragile safety, the surviving Abbotts are now forced out into the post-invasion world to seek new sanctuary.
A Quiet Place Part II
In 90 minutes and change, the family faces one peril after another, the dangers far more frequent and accelerated than before. And the creatures — previously identified more by their juddering movements and screeching attack sounds than by unobstructed visibility almost until the end — are now seen in all their fearsome glory from the outset. They crash through walls, scramble over surfaces and pounce with a sickening thud that reverberates through your viscera as they crush human life with a swipe of their outsize claws.
Those differences should in theory rob this sequel of some of the sophistication and intelligence that made its predecessor so sensationally effective. But our investment in the characters is no less intense. Having standard communication replaced to a large degree by the raw emotions that play across their faces is a big part of that. The intimacy of the storytelling tugs relentlessly at our anxieties for the duration. The jump scares here are legitimately distressing because there’s so little distance separating us from the main characters. Those jolts are not cheap tricks but immersive approximations of what the people onscreen are experiencing.
As in the first film, there’s minimal information to illuminate the origins of the alien attack. But in a rewind to Day One, we see a small-town main street completely empty and still, in what seems like an aftermath. That clever tease subverts our initial expectations as Lee Abbott (Krasinski) hops out of his pickup truck and into the general store for oranges and water to take to the Little League game, where most of the town appears to be gathered and where his son Marcus (Noah Jupe) nervously waits for his turn at bat.
A friendly exchange with Emmett (Cillian Murphy), another parent in the stands, establishes a new character who will figure later on in this chapter, transformed by devastating loss and bitterness.
The flaming path of a meteorite through the sky in the distance breaks up the game and disseminates low-level panic as parents gather their children and head for their cars. Marcus and his kid brother go with their mother, Evelyn (Emily Blunt), while Lee takes their older teenage daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) in the truck. In a terrifying sequence partly revealed in the trailer, the aliens land with ear-splitting force and at dizzying speed, leaving carnage in their wake. Audiences who savored the patient buildup of the first movie might assume this swift explosion of violence is a departure from that approach. But the eerie stillness returns intermittently and silence remains the dominant motif.
Krasinski jumps ahead to Day 474, the morning after the closing scene of A Quiet Place, as a stunned Evelyn hurries Regan and Marcus out of the house and beyond the sand path their father laid to cushion the sound of their footsteps. Regan, who is deaf, grabs a small amp and microphone along with the homemade hearing aids Lee was working on for her. Having witnessed the aliens’ acute sensitivity to high-frequency sound, she knows these electronics will be a useful weapon.
The family on the run is also carrying Evelyn and Lee’s newborn baby in a crate outfitted as a portable crib, with an oxygen mask to keep the infant from crying. That increases the gravity of Evelyn’s new role as a solo parent, at the same time forcing her older children to mature beyond their years.
Much of the action takes place in an abandoned steel mill, a burnt out industrial graveyard from the rust-belt past, given atmospheric detail by production designer Jess Gonchor. A furnace embedded in thick concrete walls provides both a soundproof hidey-hole and an airless trap. A serious injury forces the Abbotts to seek shelter despite receiving a cold welcome there from Emmett; this is a world where the bonds of community have been largely erased among the small pockets of human resistance. But having inherited her father’s compassion, Regan takes off with her audio equipment, determined to save lives.
Krasinski maximizes suspense by splitting the characters into three small groups, with editor Michael P. Shawver cutting among them to pulse-quickening effect as each gets caught in a life-threatening situation. These include not just the bone-chilling alien attacks, but a cluster of ruthless human survivalists living in boats at a marina. And the revelation of another of the invading alien species’ weaknesses leads to a major discovery of postapocalyptic tranquility, where peace is short-lived as the film builds again to an abrupt yet satisfyingly open-ended conclusion.
Blunt’s fiercely protective and loving mother seems positioned to become the de facto center of the story, her heart ripped open by Lee’s absence even if she’s given little time to grieve. But deaf actress Simmonds’ quick-thinking Regan carries arguably more weight in a riveting performance, equal parts resolute and vulnerable. Her scenes with Murphy’s damaged yet inherently decent Emmett — who unlike Regan’s family is not fluent in American Sign Language — range from propulsive excitement to tender emotional breakthroughs. Jupe (seen recently in The Undoing) is becoming a terrific young actor, his expressive eyes conveying the conflict between Marcus’ boyish insecurities and the premature burdens of adult responsibility.
Krasinski once again surrounds himself with first-rate technicians, notably British DP Polly Morgan (Marvel’s Legion series), whose close-ups of the wandering family’s cautious footsteps, along with lovely medium shots and overhead views of them walking along train tracks or through woodlands, cement the idea of their complete isolation. Morgan contrasts that visual poetry with dynamic work in tight spaces rendered nightmarish by the explosive physical intrusion of the aliens. If the shots capturing predator and prey often owe a debt to James Cameron’s Aliens, well, there are worse models to emulate.
The layered sound design, fittingly, is a thing of beauty. And like the first film, this one also benefits immeasurably from Marco Beltrami’s vigorous orchestral score, which shifts between ominous groans and thundering high drama, dialing up the tension throughout.
Production companies: Platinum Dunes, Sunday Night
Cast: Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Djimon Hounsou, John Krasinski
Director-screenwriter: John Krasinski, based on characters created by Brian Woods, Scott Beck
Producers: Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller, John Krasinksi
Executive producers: Allyson Seeger, JoAnn Perritano, Aaron Janus
Director of photography: Polly Morgan
Production designer: Jess Gonchor
Costume designer: Kasia Walicka Maimone
Music: Marco Beltrami
Editor: Michael P. Shawver
Visual effects supervisor: Scott Farrar
Casting: Laura Rosenthal
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