A Quiet Place Part II review – a precision-tooled sequel worth listening to shut up and listen

June 1, 2021
Jonathon Wilson 0
Film Reviews
4

Summary

It lacks the novelty of its predecessor, but A Quiet Place Part II still boasts the same expert suspense-building and frayed leading performances, making for a worthwhile follow-up, even if it’s less of an expansion than you might have hoped for.

4

Summary

It lacks the novelty of its predecessor, but A Quiet Place Part II still boasts the same expert suspense-building and frayed leading performances, making for a worthwhile follow-up, even if it’s less of an expansion than you might have hoped for.

This review of A Quiet Place Part II is spoiler-free, though it does contain some spoilers for the first film if you haven’t seen it yet (you should).

The obvious point to make about A Quiet Place Part II, one that I’m sure most critics already have, is that the long-awaited sequel has a new degree of relevance given the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. That’s not necessarily wrong given the obvious parallels in a family emerging from lockdown after being driven to isolation by an alien menace and the reliably unhinged reactions to it by the general public, even if it is a bit easy. But there’s no denying that A Quiet Place Part II is topical. It’s also hopeful, in a weird, roundabout, almost unrealistic way. The only way to survive in this world, once again brought to life by writer-director John Krasinski, is by shutting up and listening. In a story full of spidery extra-terrestrials with super hearing, a blinding top-speed, and a mean pimp slap, the thing I found hardest to swallow was that there would be enough people keeping their mouths shut to build a movie around. You cannot fault Krasinski’s optimism.

Luckily, you can’t fault his direction, either. He’s barely in this one apart from a guest appearance in a chaotic flashback prologue, and he’s replaced for long stretches in the beardy survivalist dad role by Cillian Murphy, but his fingerprints are everywhere, from the tightly-engineered suspense sequences – there are a couple of white-knuckle ones, believe me – to the almost obsessive attention paid to the minute details of a world where the slightest sound can get you killed. This, admittedly, feels less like a proper sequel and more like a coda to the first film, picking up minutes after and unfolding over a short enough period that the screenplay doesn’t have to ask any bigger questions about the mythology. But it has just enough new ideas, and such a firm grasp of its old ones, that you scarcely have time to think about the bigger implications anyway.

For those who’re either uninitiated or have simply forgotten in all the time that A Quiet Place Part II has spent sitting on a shelf somewhere, the premise imagines a world beset by alien invaders who’re blind but hyper-sensitive to sound. Being one of the first films to get a theatrical run after prolonged closures means it’s inevitable that certain moviegoers will wish this menace would descend upon the screening full of excitable chatterboxes who tend to clog up such things. It’s streaming on Paramount Plus soon, which is perhaps just as well, but in the meantime, it’s worth seeing in the earliest, emptiest showing you can find since its sound design remains exceptional, its silences speak volumes, and nobody off-screen is likely to keep their traps shut long enough for you to realize these things if you catch it on an evening or a weekend.

Anyway, those aliens. They’re an impressive feat of visual design, somehow appearing original but not nonsensical, which is a hard balance to achieve these days, especially when we’re able to see so much of them. This remains a quiet place, but only rarely a dark one; Krasinski delights in letting these long-limbed monsters loose in broad daylight or well-lit areas. They have armored carapaces that make them effectively bulletproof, but as we learned in the climax of the first film, a certain blast of high-frequency sound causes the plating to retreat and expose a fleshy, toothy mush, vulnerable to shotgun blasts and the enthusiastic application of metal objects. For a good stretch of the film, Emily Blunt’s frazzled matriarch Evelyn, her deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), and her noisy, idiot son Marcus (Noah Jupe), carry around what is essentially a boombox, which is only one of the ways in which A Quiet Place Part II can build suspense out of something that’s quite silly when you think about it.

As it turns out, Krasinski is good at making those silly things crucially important, and that attention to small detail is a huge part of why the set-pieces, many of which employ a great deal of cross-cutting when characters in different locations are imperiled at the same time, work so well. Almost every footstep in this film is purposeful. Virtually every little thing our attention is drawn to matters. There’s so much obvious craft on display that it’d have the soulless clockwork robot heart of a Christopher Nolan picture if it wasn’t bolstered by such excellent performances. Blunt continues her embodiment of bruised motherhood from the first film as if she’d been holding one weary breath all this time. In the fiction, she gave birth only hours prior, yet she’s immediately traipsing barefoot for miles, putting bullets in alien grills, and clamping a hand over Marcus’s mouth at regular intervals so he doesn’t get everyone killed. It’s a lot to deal with, and Krasinski, understandably, gets a lot out of his wife.

But Blunt is also slightly sidelined. She doesn’t have an obvious replacement like Murphy’s Emmett, whose frayed beard blocks big portions of the Irish actor’s distinctive angular face, so Simmonds becomes the lead in her stead, determinedly venturing out on her own in a way that would probably seem ill-advised if Marcus didn’t have so much of the stupidity real estate fenced-off. Her escapades with Murphy occupy a generous portion of the runtime, which makes for a different vibe than that of the first film; separating the obviously vulnerable Regan from her all-action mother and putting her in the hands of a father figure with a lot more moral ambiguity is a smart choice, one of several A Quiet Place Part II makes.

Another is reusing the gimmick of events from Regan’s perspective being noiseless; “gimmick” is a bit of a dirty word in film criticism, but I don’t mean it that way here. The technique works every time it’s deployed, and there are plenty of other innovative sonic ones. Of course, the first film nailed this too, and I should stress again that there isn’t exactly an overabundance of new ideas here. But the grasp it has on its essential concepts shouldn’t be understated. Just return to the monsters for a moment. They’re fearsome predators, but they have vulnerabilities. A fair few are killed, but not so many that even a lone one stops being scary. This stuff seems obvious, but so many similar movies get so much of it wrong that it’s worth mentioning all the same.

At some point after the first film’s gleeful critical reception, it became trendy to slag it off on Twitter, bemoaning lapses in its logic and other dull things that aren’t important to the overall effect. A Quiet Place was always a film about sight and sound, or at least the absence of the latter, and its sequel works on the same pure, instinctive terms. This is a precision-tooled exercise in suspense, as lean and taut at 97 minutes as the sinewy limbs of its monster menagerie, and it marks a welcome return of the big-screen blockbuster. Let’s just hope people follow its advice and keep quiet for long enough to enjoy it.

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