I totally appreciate that a lot of people will have felt stressed and tense enough since, ooo, March 2020 (I can’t imagine why…) to not be keen on watching a very tense film (also set in a world where people are living apart from one another during a global crisis…) when they return to the cinema. However, A Quiet Place Part II is a great, blood pressure-boosting sequel to the dangerously tense A Quiet Place, and was another reminder for me of what makes seeing a film SO GREAT at the cinema.
Returning writer-director John Krasinski (who also appears in a prologue set just before the aliens invade) lets us pick up where the original left off, with Emily Blunt’s Evelyn, new born baby and kids Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Regan (Millicent Simmonds) having just cracked out how to fend off the extra-terrestrial gits with sensitive speakers for faces. They leave their home and venture out, encountering old friend and haunted survivor Lee (Cillian Murphy) as Regan realises that her deafness, and the hearing aid she uses, could be the answer to humanity’s prayers.
The first film was a completely unexpected smash hit, an uncomfortably tense horror thriller with a creative and unique premise on a fairly low budget. It stands to reason that Krasinski had gone on record to say he wasn’t keen on a sequel, as it was definitely one of those films that would have retained all its power and quality if left alone. He was however tempted back, but insisted he write and direct again – and despite any faults this film might have, it works so well as a sequel because you can tell his focus on the story and the characters remains intact.
This is immediately clear with an incredible prologue scene, set on the day the aliens invaded, with the small town American base of the family turning from idyllic kid’s baseball match into absolute carnage. Krasinski’s use of single takes and novel take on sound (even before the aliens arrive, it’s unnervingly quiet until we visit the match) build up tension straight away, and it’s a great way to bring us back into that world without just immediately picking up where we left off.
After that, the film goes through waves of increasing tension and drama before simmering down to a low-level hum of discomfort, which you sense could be ruptured at any time. Where it falls down a tiny bit for me is that some of the characters (by necessity) have little to do this time around, namely both Blunt’s Evelyn and Jupe’s Marcus (the former being all “strong mom” mode and the latter regressing to a panicking, whining and ridiculous stereotype).
That’s not to say neither actor does a bad job – they do what they can with what they’re given, and there’s plenty of peril for both to go through. But the focus this time is on Simmonds’ Regan, who assumes her dad’s role in the family and takes the fight to the aliens, with her character gaining that extra development of taking responsibility, taking risks and facing danger. Murphy’s Lee is a great addition and foil for Simmonds because the Irish actor exudes ambiguity with one look, and he’s as excellent as ever as a man looking for a family but holding back due to tragedy.
Those two characters’ arc is far more interesting and engaging than the others’, which is where the film struggles a bit. Lee and Regan are venturing out and showing us tantalising glimpses of this ruined world, while Evelyn and Marcus are… hiding in a steel mill. However, Krasinski does rectify this with two of the aforementioned swoops up into high stress territory, and his direction – alongside Michael P Shawver’s masterful editing and Marco Beltrami’s stressful score – mean that when the tension ratchets up, I was fully engaged and completely on edge.
The secret sauce of these two films is this unbearable tension, requiring little gore or violence and relying on the skills of the filmmakers and the acting to truly put the audience through the wringer. This time around, cross-cutting is again employed to great effect as we see drama on multiple fronts in various areas, and it reaches crescendos you can barely take before Krasinski undoes the pressure valve (for a while, or for a few minutes – who knows…). In a cinema, in the dark, with the surround sound – this is what the cinematic experience was made for, and at home it would have been nothing like as good.
Murphy and Simmonds are the standout performers (and Krasinski’s appearance at the beginning is also worth a mention), while Blunt is as ever highly capable when given the chance. Jupe does nothing much wrong, but his character’s situation and his understandable reluctance to lose any other family members essentially hamstring any development in his plotline. A worthy mention too to Djimon Hounsou and Scoot McNairy, who make cameo-ish appearances that – in their own way – show the very different ways in which humanity has adapted to reality.
Beltrami’s score, outside of the drama, is uncomfortably morose, with an out of tune piano soundtracking quieter moments that just adds layers to this broken world. Polly Morgan’s cinematography meanwhile works hard alongside the excellent set design and location filming to give us an image of a jaded, faded world – though not one entirely lacking life or colour, as some post-apocalyptic films are too keen to showcase.
While I think I definitely preferred the first film, A Quiet Place II is obviously less tight and less focused than that, but that’s by necessity – it stretches itself and the world it’s created almost a little too thin, but it’s still an excellent film (and in my opinion – though Hollywood has already not listened – it should be the capper on this excellent mini franchise).