2018’s “A Quiet Place” is a terrifically focused and tightly wound horror film, which uses silence interspersed with jump scares to create a thoroughly thrilling experience. How then to follow it up with a “Part II?” Writer-director John Krasinski does so by expanding the world of the first film while also maintaining the focus on a family within the wider context of a world fallen apart. With its release delayed by more than a year thanks to Covid-19, A Quiet Place Part II arrives with significant expectations, which it more than lives up to.
Whereas the previous film began on Day 89, A Quiet Place Part II takes us back to Day One, where a small New York town is shown in its normalcy before all hell breaks loose. Hell in this case is an invasion by predatory aliens that hunt by sound. The opening act moves from a baseball game to a frantic chase, much of it delivered in an exhilarating long take that ends abruptly before cutting to immediately after the events of the first film’s finale. The surviving members of the Abbott family — Evelyn (Emily Blunt, “The Girl on the Train”), Regan (Millicent Simmonds, “Wonderstruck”) and Marcus (Noah Jupe, “Le Mans ‘66”), along with the baby born in, shall we say, less than ideal circumstances last time – set off in search of other survivors. While exploring an abandoned area, they encounter old friend Emmett (Cillian Murphy, “Dunkirk”), first introduced in the opening sequence. Emmett has his own way of surviving, that involves isolation and indeed hostility towards his fellow survivors. His treatment of the Abbotts raises the interesting idea of what happens to people when we lose our comforts and infrastructures. Should we just look after our own, try to help others, or indeed make judgments about whether others “deserve” to be saved?
This question points to a hot political topic in our current era of xenophobia and isolationism. The later appearance of other survivors explores the question further by showing different responses to threats: All for one or just for me? While absent after the first scene, the shadow of Lee Abbott (Krasinski, “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”) looms large as a symbol of something good to strive for. One could cynically read this as a certain amount of narcissism on the part of the writer-director, but the idea is not overplayed, serving as a fitting memorial by those who loved Lee. Playing things to the right extent is consistent throughout the film: As with the best horror films, A Quiet Place Part II does not labor its social and political questions, rather leaving those as considerations for the audience to have beyond the film. Horror works by appealing to audience’s empathy by presenting suffering and victimhood, inviting us to think about how we would react to such a dire situation. If our civilization falls apart, do we try to save others, or preserve ourselves by hoarding our supplies and pushing others away? Emmett and Evelyn’s debates indicate different perspectives, and the film helps us see character as well as plot development.
Within this development, Krasinski as well as cinematographer Polly Morgan, editor Michael P. Shawver, composer Marco Beltrami and everyone else ensure that the thrills and spills keep coming. The monsters remain terrifying, with the array of teeth and spindly yet muscular limbs making them otherworldly and all the more terrifying. Empty spaces such as a bridge and a drug store, including some visits back to previous locations, remain eerie and menacing while also melancholic, especially as Evelyn remembers what she has lost. Krasinski provides multiple set pieces of ever-escalating tension. There is an early chase that leads the Abbots to Emmett and includes a man trap that is agonizing in several ways. A more claustrophobic scene in a train carriage includes jump scares and a brilliant use of shallow focus to indicate something approaching that will have viewers’ fingers digging into their armrests. Oxygen becomes a precious commodity at key moments, while a sequence on a jetty brings the added danger of water into play. Speaking of water, in a sequence involving a sprinkler, Blunt proves herself once again to be a thoroughly capable action lead, as Evelyn demonstrates resourcefulness, resolve and all the ferocity of a tigress defending her young, which she is.
However, the true star of A Quiet Place Part II is Simmonds. Combining hope, imagination and determination, Regan sets out to save her family, her deafness both a challenge and yet a solution to the threat. Scenes between her and Emmett highlight the need to listen and learn, the irony evident and quite touchingly played. Regan’s courage and intelligence, combined with her heartfelt humanity, make her a magnificent protagonist. The parallels between mother and daughter are underscored in the film’s crosscutting climax, as Evelyn and Regan both take on the aliens with ingenuity and ruthlessness. Through suspense and jump scares, probing questions and progressive ideas as well as genuine surprises, this survival story may be a quiet place, but its return to cinema is a triumphant shout.