Quiet Place, A: Part II

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 05/25/21 17:05:54

"Be Vewy Vewy Quiet--Again. . ."
3 stars (Just Average)

When I reviewed “A Quiet Place” when it came out in 2018, I praised it for taking a potentially dubious premise for a horror film and spinning out in a well-made and surprisingly effective manner that contained a number of nicely staged suspense sequences and kept the dumb stuff to a relative minimum. At the end of that review, I also said that it was “also nice to see a pared-to-the-bone genre film that is not interested in creating elaborate backstories or setting up an endless string of sequels.” Well, I guess I spoke too soon—unexpectedly grossing nearly $350 million dollars worldwide on a $17 million dollar budget has a way of changing plans—because now, after being one of the first major films to get bumped off the schedule during the early days of the pandemic, “A Quiet Place Part II” has arrived to serve as the unofficial kickoff blockbuster of this year’s attempt at a summer movie season. As it turns out, its oddball position as the cinematic canary that will hopefully lure wary viewers back into the multiplexes is by far the most interesting aspect of this stylishly executed but ultimately empty work that has nothing else on its mind but giving viewers and Paramount accountants a repeat of the experience that they had and loved three years ago.

After an elaborate but ultimately unnecessary prologue depicting the first attack of the deadly aliens with super-sensitive hearing that wiped out most of humanity and left the rest struggling to survive in a world where making the slightest noise could mean instant and extremely messy death, the film picks up exactly where the previous film left off as the surviving members of the Abbot family—resourceful mom Evelyn (Emily Blunt), children Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe) and the baby that Evelyn delivered during the climax of the previous installment—leave the now-destroyed remote farmhouse where they had managed to mostly lie low successfully. (Since Regan was deaf, they all knew sign language and could use it to communicate with each other.) Seeing a signal fire in the distance, they head towards it and arrive at an abandoned steel mill where they are rescued from imminent disaster by Emmett (Cillian Murphy), a family friend who has grown hostile and solitary since losing his own family.

Having figured out a way to keep the aliens at bay by blaring feedback at them in the previous film, Millicent stumbles across a lone radio frequency that plays “Beyond the Sea” on repeat and is convinced that this means that there are other survivors out there who could benefit from her discovery. The embittered Emmett tells her that there is nothing out there worth saving but Millicent takes off in the middle of the night to track down the source of the signal and Evelyn pleads with Emmett to go out and find her. While he is doing that, Evelyn makes a potentially perilous journey into town for medical supplies and oxygen tanks to allow the baby to breathe while locked in a trunk so that its cries cannot be heard, leaving a wounded Marcus behind to watch over the baby. As you can probably guess, things do not go particularly smoothly for any of them.

When you watch the original “A Quiet Place,” as I suggested earlier, you can pretty much tell that it was not a film that was designed to launch a franchise—it had a clever but fairly simple premise that was nicely executed and which concluded in a satisfying manner that did not leave too many plot threads dangling that needed to be addressed in a followup. Therefore, when a sequel was launched in the wake of its surprise success, writer-director Krasinski had a couple of potential options for an approach. For example, he could do what they did with the followups to the similar surprise hit “Cloverfield” and tell different stories with different characters that would gradually tie in with the original. On the other hand, he could instead take the easy way out and essentially offer up a retread of the original that would be bigger and more elaborate from a technical perspective but would be relatively free of innovations in regards to the screenplay. The choice was evidently made to go the second way and while that decision will no doubt prove to be a winner from a purely financial perspective, those who treasured the film for its originality are going to come away from it disappointed.

Right from the start, it is evident that the film is going to follow the basic template of the first one. It opens with a long prologue featuring the details of a previous attack—in this case, a presentation of the first alien attack on the small town where the Abbots live that serves no real dramatic purpose other than to briefly introduce the Emmett character and to give Krasinski an extended cameo since his character is otherwise out of the running. From there, the film basically becomes a series of elaborately staged setpieces in which the various characters play cat-and-mouse with the creatures (whose super-hearing compensates for the fact that they are blind) and often end up making a loud noise at precisely the wrong time. The returning characters are the same—Regan is brave and headstrong, Evelyn is resilient, Marcus is fearful and worried and the baby is little more than a plot device—and while the initially resentful Emmett suggests a different dynamic early on, he soon morphs into a stalwart father figure type to fill in the spot vacated by Krasinski. We even learn another weakness of the alien invaders, although this discovery proves to be kind of dumb—an odd homage to one of the stupidest ideas that M Night Shyamalan ever had for one of his films.

So pretty much all of the surprise on display in “A Quiet Place” is nowhere to be found here—a familiar peril for most sequels but one that especially hurts here. And yet, while Krasinski is obviously giving us a rehash of his previous success, I have to admit that he does it in a technically skilled manner. The set pieces (especially one set on an abandoned train) are impeccably staged and often generate moments of real suspense as well as a few effective “BOO!” moments where something jumps into the frame from out of nowhere. He even gets ambitious towards the end by staging two intertwining climaxes in which the action in one seems to effortlessly flow into the other in such a graceful manner that when it ends, you want to immediately go back and look at it again. The performances are good—at least as good as can be in a film where the basic requirements are to look fearful and be very quiet—and Simmonds once again steal the whole show with her work as the enormously resourceful Regan.

In the end, the amount of enjoyment one derives from “A Quiet Place Pat II” will depend heavily on the expectations that viewers bring to it. If all they want is a replication of the out-of-nowhere thrills that they got from the original film and nothing else, the film definitely delivers the goods—especially for those who haven’t been in a movie theater for over/nearly a year (depending on whether you saw “Tenet”) and who could use a reminder of all that can be gained by seeing a movie on the big screen where it belongs. On the other hand, if you are looking for something more—some glimmer of the quirky and unique attitude and approach of the first film that has largely been smoothed away here—then I fear that you are going to left feeling as wanting as I did. Yes, the film is very well made and will almost certainly have you jumping in your seat from time to time but, in the end, its basic inability to make a case for its own existence as anything other than a money-making machine is easily the scariest and saddest thing about it.

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