By JASON MARTIN (@JMartRadio – May 25, 2021)
This is why we go to the movies, and it’s why the experience of driving to a theater is unmatched when the finished product delivers. When the publicist asked for my comments walking out of the film, I simply said I found it hard to believe anyone that dug the original wouldn’t enjoy the second installment.
I know I did.
A Quiet Place arrived on the scene in 2018 quietly (which was fitting), without too many paying close attention to it prior to release, and then it became a phenomenon for John Krasinski and his team. Deservedly so, because it did for the horror/suspense genre what Iron Man and The Dark Knight did for the tired superhero genre. It wasn’t “new” with invading monsters terrorizing the globe, in fact with The Walking Dead‘s success, we’ve been conditioned for just those kinds of stories, but the technique of sound created a degree of sublime pacing that felt overwhelmingly fresh and unique.
What wasn’t as certain was whether a sequel needed to exist, and that’s usually the first test a film of this type needs to pass. When Rogue One came out, the answer to that question for Star Wars fans was… well, no, it wasn’t an essential piece of the mythos and it wasn’t necessary. However, no movie HAS to exist, so we can blow past that question and ask are we better off for having the ability to see that part of the story? In the case of Rogue One, it was a heavy yes. The film as a standalone piece of storytelling was exquisite, and the idea of it being needed was replaced with a new statement. “I don’t care if I needed this. I want this. I’m glad I have this.”
A Quiet Place Part II builds off the structure of the original, featuring a “prequel” of sorts that many saw during extended preview sequences over the past 12 months, when the movie was nearing its original release date. What the second film needed had to adeptly navigate was not departing from what made the initial entry special while not feeling like the exact same movie. It’s a tight script with about five or six tentpole pulse-risers that are balanced by tough-minded tenderness between Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt) – now a single mom – and her two children, Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe).
The monsters are still the same, hypersensitive to sound and blind as a bat, which gets to the intricacy of the concept, wherein the key to defeating these beasts arrives from the brain of Regan, a deaf girl who shows an immense level of maturity now one year following the original invasion that took the life of her father, Lee (John Krasinski). The flashback gives us an opportunity to see Lee in action at the moment all hell broke loose, literally, on earth. We see the instincts, determination, and intelligence of the father so that we can understand why the daughter is the kind of young woman she is.
From there, we flip forward to the timeline’s present, and the remaining Abbott’s struggle to survive in a world where even though they’ve found a weakness in the enemy, the area and in fact the globe are still riddled with the abominations that have wiped out a large majority of the population. A Quiet Place Part II moves with the pace of a survival horror video game, where much of it is slowly moving, paying the most attention to stealth and surroundings, and building to wild, cacophonous action that would probably have taken me five lives to get through.
The story progresses believably and we bring one extra character into the mix, whose reactions and motivations are entirely sensible, as well as his protective instincts (once they’re reawakened) towards the Abbott Family. Cillian Murphy, no stranger to moody horror, adeptly handles the “helper” role as Emmett, a friend of Lee’s who has lost much of his reason to care about anything in the wake of the disastrous reality around him.
When the real becomes worse than any imagined terror, what would you do? More compellingly, who would you become? For Emmett, a survivor left with almost nothing of his past life, the answers become far more black and white. It’s cut and dry self-preservation, but just as he never planned what happened that left the globe ravaged and destroyed, he’s still has virtually no control over anything else other than his own life. And even that is precarious.
As with most zombie or external, supernatural or otherworldly threat stories, it’s much less about the monsters themselves and much more about the humanity hanging onto a thread. There ARE survivors in the world of A Quiet Place, but the toll and the mental faculties become of paramount importance, because the enemy you know (creatures) then come with the new enemies you don’t (humans in desperation). A year after the fact, how much of “you” would remain? That’s a question we see some semblance of an answer to within the 97 minute runtime.
Krasinski’s writing and direction are almost flawless for the subject matter, as his pacing and use of the environment must also depend on sound effects, and also on dead silence. Thus, the camera work and the movement and facial expressions of the performers are crucial. Hearing the breaths, the rustle of a leaf or the crunch of sand, the creatures approaching from the distance or those nearby are treats in themselves. And, even the most minute detail of how our protagonists have rigged their surroundings for minimal noise or disturbance left me thinking what we almost never do watching movies these days…
“Wow. That was smart. I never thought about that. I’d be dead as disco already if this were me.” These people on screen are SMARTER than me. Rather than dumb it down, leaving the audience screaming not to open that door because we know the slasher is behind it with a machete, here we’re watching resourceful brilliance and then can just watch through the eyes of children, rather than seasoned know-it-all adults. That’s an amazing accomplishment, whether it was the intention or not.
It’s just long enough without feeling like it’s attempting to stretch itself. The one issue I do have with the movie, which I thoroughly enjoyed otherwise, is the abruptness of the ending. When it’s over, it’s OVER. I was definitely left wanting a little more, which usually is good, but here it was almost like the camera just stopped filming. It wasn’t a cliffhanger, though it does leave open the possibility for much more in the universe, but when you see it, you’ll kind of wonder exactly why Krasinski chose to close the story in that manner. It’s underwhelming.
Luckily, that’s really the only blemish. The four key performances are outstanding, with Murphy really shining in his role alongside the family. John Krasinski’s brief appearance is welcome and adds more sympathy and heroism to the Lee Abbott character. This is one of those movies that you’re happy to be in a theater to see, as it doesn’t hit the same on a smaller screen. It’s also one of those movies you feel in your bones just as much as you view with your eyes.
There’s plenty more to wade into, but it would ruin the plot, so let’s just leave that alone for the time being. We don’t do spoilers around here, folks, as you well know. Thus we speed to the conclusion.
If you liked the first, you’ll like the second. If you loved the first, you’ll love the second. The novelty may be a little less prevalent, because we’ve already seen the magic trick, but enough has been revamped to make A Quiet Place Part II not just good, but more than worthy of its predecessor’s quick but well-earned praise. While not as groundbreaking as the original, which would have been impossible, it’s an excellent sequel, not in any way a mere cash grab, and should be on your to-do list as soon as possible.