The Pitch: Picking up immediately where 2018’s A Quiet Place left off, the surviving Abbotts — mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt), Deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), son Marcus (Noah Jupe), and Evelyn’s newborn child — must flee their now-destroyed home with nary a moment to mourn the death of father Lee (John Krasinski). With no place left to go, and the Earth still ravaged by scaly, toothy monsters who seize upon any living thing that makes a sound, must venture out into the open world for the first time in months.
Sure, they can rely on their resourcefulness, Regan’s newfound feedback weapon which stuns the beasties, and an old family friend named Emmett (Cillian Murphy), a loner who makes a bittersweet reconnection to the family. But that can only take you so far, especially when help isn’t coming. What’s more, the Abbotts soon learn that the creatures aren’t the only things they have to worry about in the unknown.
Switching Frequencies: 2018’s A Quiet Place was a true surprise: A high-concept sci-fi horror thriller dripping with atmosphere and underpinned by a strong thematic core… from the guy who played Jim from The Office? But as such things go, a surprise smash hit must invariably spawn a sequel, and here we are with A Quiet Place Part II. It’s had its own rocky journey to theaters, originally set for release in March of 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic closed theaters and kept everyone trapped in their homes, waiting for good news from the outside world. (Hm, sounds familiar.)
Three postponements later, and Part II is finally upon us, and as triumphant returns to the movie theater go, it’s a fitting welcome to audiences heretofore skittish to step back into a cinema. Like the Abbotts, we too are taking our first furtive steps into a world ravaged by worldwide disaster, unsure of the new social contract and whether we can even trust our fellow man.
Thankfully, a good deal of A Quiet Place Part II works, especially in the nerve-shredding immediacy of its thrills. Krasinski has a shocking command of tension, drawing out the concept of sound as a danger to construct subtle, but effective scares and scenarios. Perspective remains key, with Krasinski’s steady compositions (aided by new DP Polly Walker, who carries over the first’s endearingly grainy 35mm aesthetic to the sequel) urging us to pay attention to every little detail — a dog in the bed of a truck, a towel that keeps a vault door closed without trapping its occupants — and wait for that particular Chekov’s gun to go off.
The real star remains the sound design, as Krasinski carries us from one white-knuckle beat to another through transitional sounds, parallel action, and those spine-tingling moments when we “hear” the world through Regan’s Deaf perspective. Marco Beltrami’s score is still effective if a bit overbearing in the moment, but he lands the major emotional beats in the final minutes with aplomb.
The Next to Last of Us: With Krasinski’s character out of the picture, he steps behind the camera full-time for Part II (save a flashback opening sequence to the first day of the invasion). We’re in luck, though: we’ve got a spare scruffy male lead in the form of Murphy’s Emmett, who serves as the de facto Krasinski for the duration of the film. It’s a bit disappointing, to be honest, to see Blunt get slightly short shrift in this one: with Krasinski out of the way, this would have been an incredible opportunity for her to really take control of the film.
Instead, she’s mostly left keeping Jupe (who’s sidelined quickly, but gets some solid moments) and the baby safe at their new temporary home base, a factory with thick concrete walls so the characters can whisper-chat every once in a while. I’d have loved for her to have to wrestle with the new responsibilities of taking care of the children on her own, especially a newborn baby whose uncontrollable cries would present a newfound threat to them.
That’s partially redeemed, however, by giving center stage to Simmonds, a Deaf actress who plays the resolute Regan with incredible tenacity and resourcefulness. She’s very much her father’s daughter, someone clinging to hope and unwilling to let her own fear stop her from doing what must be done. Much of the back half of the film sees her making a risky trek to an island where they might find other survivors, not to mention a radio station that might amplify her modified implant to keep the monsters away for good, with a reluctant Emmett in tow.
For as much as Emmett feels like a low-rent replacement for Krasinski in the family dynamic, Murphy gives him a subtle layer of despair that contrasts well with Simmonds’s resolve. Emmett is a man mourning the loss of his family, who’s seen what the remnants of humanity have become. Regan’s response offers him a chance at absolution: “You said you couldn’t do enough. Now you can.”
Qreature Questions: Part II also suffers from that most frustrating of sequel problems: expounding too much on the first film’s mysterious conceit and simply raising more questions than answers. Part of the beauty of the blind creatures from the first Quiet Place was that we barely saw them, and knew even less about them. They were mostly the vehicle for this taut, haunting version of “The Quiet Game” Krasinski was playing around with. Part II makes them feel even less daunting and inscrutable: the aforementioned Day 1 flashback gives us a heavy hint as to where they come from, while the amped-up action means we see many more opportunities for Emmett and the Abbotts to defeat them in battle.
But while Regan’s amplified cochlear implant was a nifty escalation to a newfound weapon in the first Quiet Place, here it functions as something akin to a superweapon, which robs the film of some of its tension. (The slightly expanded cast also means we fear a bit less for the Abbotts since they’ve got plenty of meat shields to protect them should the beasts get too close.)
What’s more, while the outside world is still a terrifying place, Krasinski’s script has to jump through a number of hoops to justify the absence of these elements in the first. With each new character (or groups of characters, in some instances), we’re left to wonder how these new people survived for so long. Some answers are satisfactory, others aren’t. (I’m still waiting for an explanation of why the Abbotts go barefoot. It doesn’t make that much noise! Emmett wears shoes for the whole film without incident!) A late-film reveal about one of the aliens’ major weaknesses also makes us wonder just how they actually ended up destroying the world.
In the immediate, the beasts are still slimy, terrifying opponents, and the Abbotts’ interactions with them still carry no small amount of tension. But the greater focus on action just gives us more exposure to — and by extension, less fear of — the very enemies that made the first so enticingly scary.
The Verdict: For all the unexpected charms of Emmett and Regan’s Last of Us-esque trek to salvation through an apocalyptic wasteland, Part II feels a bit more scattered and perfunctory than the first. A Quiet Place stunned not just with its concept and craft, but with its strong thematic core, the tale of a family mourning the world that was and learning to empower each other to survive the world they’ve walked into.
Here, the expanded scope means we lose some of that foundation: the Abbotts are split up for much of the runtime, and their conflicts are rooted much more in the external threats to their survival than their interpersonal dynamics. It’s a natural consequence of making a sequel to such a strong, self-contained film: with the central message “solved” at the end, where else do you go? For Part II, that means getting down to the business of finding more people and saving the world.
Where’s It Playing? A Quiet Place Part II sneaks up on you in theaters on May 28th.