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‘A Quiet Place Part II’ Review: Enjoy the silence

A Quiet Place Part II
Johnny Cournoyer
 

In keeping with the narrative expediency and efficiency that he’d established in his first film, John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place Part II wastes little time in getting you back into the swing of things, though it may take more time for audiences to feel fully comfortable hanging out in a room with a bunch of strangers. After an opening flashback, set on the very first day man realized he was now in a lower position on the food chain thanks to bizarro echolocation creatures who can tear men apart with their bare hands, that also introduces us to Cillian Murphy’s new character and allows for Krasinski to spend some time on screen despite getting killed off in the last installment, we pick up almost exactly where we ended in the first film. Mom (Emily Blunt), Sister (Millicent Simmonds), Brother (Noah Jupe, who can straight-up scream like his name was Sheryl Lee), and Baby have just discovered that the distortion in Sister’s hearing aid can immobilize the giant fucking monsters, and are somewhat more protected than they used to be. However, they’re in desperate need of help, so they make a journey to Murphy’s neighboring farm. Bad things happen to them on the way, and their newfound light-in-the-darkness isn’t the panacea that they might have hoped for, but there may be some brightness on the horizon, especially if they can enlist their neighbor in their quest.

So, yes, if you liked A Quiet Place, you should expect to enjoy more of the same in its sequel, given how closely it hews to the original formula — the Part Deux implies as much, and it would be interesting to see what would happen if one stitched it together chronologically like they once did with the Godfather films. There’s not too much of the new to crowd the plate, and that might be to the film’s benefit. Of those new elements, however, it should not come as a surprise that most of Krasinski’s attempts to expand the mythos of his now-solely authored creative world aren’t totally novel. We’ve all been well-trained enough in the post-apocalyptic survivalist genre to know the beats: of course, there would be solo survivalists hiding away from the disaster, normal-ish human settlements still left unmolested thanks to circumstance, and weird cultist types squatting on valuable pieces of land like trolls trying to catch the Billy Goats Gruff. Krasinski doesn’t really care about that, nor does he care about the logistics and feasibility of his plotting and/or setting (more on that in a second), and undoubtedly the pedants of internet discourse will have a field day with the film’s inner workings, be they referential or technical, much as they did with the first film.

Then again, that aforementioned familiarity is part of the secret of this nascent franchise’s success, given that the Quiet Place films present to us the greatest hits of the subgenre with two swell additions to the formula, which remain unchanged between installments. The first of that pair is Simmonds, who is just an impossibly gifted young actor and the beating heart of practically every film that she’s in, and without her presence, I doubt they would be as effective. Krasinski makes a wise choice here in having her nearly split screen time with Blunt, as he allows their paths to diverge at the end of the film’s first act and doesn’t put them back together for the rest of the runtime. This puts her at the center of some of Part II‘s best setpieces: A terrifying encounter with one of the creatures on an abandoned train full of well-rotted corpses, and a really solid finale, set inside a room awash in deep red light that’s cross-cut surprisingly well with events further away, and endows those moments with a true sense of suspense. It helps that her plot is the most engaging in the film, too, seeing her attempt to spread the secrets her family has learned about how to fight these critters to whomever he can. Her subsequent and substitute bond with Murphy, whom she’s paired off with fairly quickly, feels a bit forced narratively — guess we have to have a replacement for dear ol’ dad, after all — but her emotional, empathetic work with him helps it go down easier than you might expect.

 

The other aspect that makes these films so damn successful compared to other modern franchise horror films is probably the one that causes them dismissed out of hand: Krasinski himself. I had worried, in the months after SXSW 2018, that I’d overrated the first Quiet Place based on the experience of watching it with a packed house in a large-format theater with a really good sound system. Perhaps it was full of cheap scares or held together by a threadbare plot, or, as the New Yorker might have put it, endowed with a subtly white supremacist survivalist mindset. But, after viewing the sequel, I don’t think it’s any of that, and I feel much better about my cheerleading (one should always have those doubts, though). Krasinski’s exceptionally good at crafting a kind of all-ages accessible suspense, and I think his high concept and scant plotting assists in that aim. Stripped of dialogue or pretty much all other complications, he’s able to focus on a few central loci of very specific and relatable fears, though in a more tactile way than in the thematic fashion someone like a Spielberg would have emphasized. He’s very polished technically: his camera movement and sound design are all smartly done (though most good sound design you tend not to notice), and he steals well, especially in Part II‘s opening sequence, which practically winks at anyone who ever watched the 2005 War of the Worlds as it cribs from its playbook before trying to outdo it. Of course, it isn’t successful at beating the Beard at his own game, but it is an interesting and ambitious attempt to even try.

So, yes, I still believe that the Quiet Place films are cinematic roller coasters, threadbare narratively but rich experiences to savor while they’re unfolding on the screen in front of you that will, naturally, drift out of your mind over time as you get further away from the visceral nature of the experience. It is all laid out in front of you on a track: you know where you’re getting on, you know there will be turns and twists and plenty of loud noises, and that you will, at some point, get off the ride. You also know that experiencing it with other people will produce unexpectedly memorable results, be it from hearing a fellow rider scream or from watching a kid in front of you puke all over himself and the people behind him at the first moment (though that may be from the warmed-over hot dog than the ride itself). This isn’t a call for one to “turn off their brain,” mind you, and there is, probably, plenty to pick apart and analyze if you really want to get into the semiotic gutter and put your fine arts degree to use, though you should be sure to wear gloves and have a hot shower ready if you do. I just don’t necessarily know if it’s particularly valuable to put on a suit of armor to attack this particular assortment of hot fudge sundaes, especially when it’s just aiming to make you jump and to rock every single bone in your body from the boom of the theater sound system. It may not be the best movie you can see in theaters right now, but it is most certainly the most movie, which seeks to cram enough thrills in its 90-minute run time to make up for a year of lost time.

As such, there are few better ways to get back into the swing of things theatrically than strapping in for A Quiet Place Part II, which is, of course, experienced best on something other than a fucking television.