A Quiet Place Part II (2020)

MAY 31, 2021


At the end of a long weekend with my potentially hyperactive son, A Quiet Place Part II could have devoted all of its (few) spoken lines to making fun of the length of my penis and I'd still probably enjoy it for its fantasy world where kids can't talk about *anything*, let alone what various Pokemon evolve into and who they would be good to fight against. But even if I saw it when I was supposed to, fourteen months ago (before Pikachu wormed his way into my son's head), I'd probably feel the same I do now: it's a terrific sequel that manages to be every bit as tense as the original while finding a believable way of getting around the sequel-proof end that earlier film seemed to be promising. Yes, the heroes know how to kill the monsters now... but how do they spread the word without making a sound?

After a terrific "Day 1" flashback opening that allows John Krasinski to reprise his role as Lee (starting with a scene at that same pharmacy that the original opened on, and Krasinski takes time to hold a few extra frames on that damn space shuttle toy, the jerk) and gives us a glimpse of what kind of chaos just one or two of these monsters can wreak on a full crowd, we pick up right where the original ended. The family is leaving their house and heading to presumed safety at an old friend of theirs, played by Cillian Murphy. Murphy is terrific and makes the most out of a fairly standard post-apocalyptic character: the former family man who lost everyone and is now too bitter to help, but is convinced by a child's plight to do the right thing. The trailer had me thinking he was an antagonist of a sort (Tim Robbins in War of the Worlds was my mental comparison) but he proves to be a fine hero and more than makes up for Krasinski's absence.

But it's actually kind of an ensemble this time, as the kids (same actors, thankfully*) take more central roles and, due to plot mechanics, find themselves separate from each other and mom Emily Blunt for a sizeable chunk of the runtime. Regan has the most synopsis ready storyline: after finding a radio broadcast playing "Beyond the Sea" in a loop, she quickly deduces that the signal must be coming from a nearby island, and if they can get there, they can broadcast her magic hearing aid signal to anyone listening and start a more effective fight back against the monsters. She leaves on her own in the middle of the night knowing the others wouldn't let her leave, prompting Blunt to send Murphy after her while she watches the kids. But then she needs to go on a supply run, leaving Marcus with the baby. And then... well, they all make noise.

There are two sequences in the film where Krasinski and his editors deftly switch from one character's plight to the next's, keeping the tension ever increasing by ending each scene on the "worst possible moment!" (i.e. a cliffhanger) to check in with another person's own imminent death, and it works incredibly well (Inception's multi layered dream sequence is a similar style, if my own description isn't clear). One would think cutting away would defuse a lot of that suspense, but it's quite the opposite, due to this particular franchise having established that no one is safe. Maybe you coulda guessed Jim Halpert would bite it at the end of the first movie, but not their youngest child in the FIRST SCENE, so there's never a moment of "they're safe, who cares, get back to the character who is in REAL danger!" thinking you might get if they tried something like this in a movie/franchise that had already tipped its hat that they didn't have the guts to take down a tyke or a big star.

In fact the scenes would work even if the characters could make sound, which drove a lot of the suspense the first time around. That's obviously a big part of it, but having spent that nickel in the first movie, there aren't a lot of scenes devoted to "How do they (go to the bathroom, put down a battery, etc) without making a peep?" in this sequel. Instead, the script (Krasinski solo; the original writers moved on) sticks to putting people in dangerous situations where sound is inevitable, like when poor Marcus trips a bear trap and his mom's only means of comforting him is to hold his mouth shut to try to keep him quiet (shoutout to Noah Jupe's pipes; even with Blunt's hand muffling them that kid's pained howl is unbearable). Even the inevitable "evil human" scene (which is thankfully brief) is tied into this idea: the villains don't wound our hero, they simply tie a chain of cans and bottles around his neck, preventing him from pursuing them as he can barely breathe without making a clatter.

That's the sort of thing that makes this an ideal sequel, a true rarity for the horror genre (even more impressive coming from a guy who probably doesn't have a lot of Scream Factory discs in his collection). The original was a simple idea milked for maximum effectiveness, and that's the sort of thing that can lead to big step downs for their followups (Halloween II and the Paranormal Activity franchise come to mind), but they find a way around it by coming up with different ways of having to be quiet, with the tradeoff being that they also found ways of having more dialogue. Murphy's character has a sound proof "room" (inside a tank) that can only hold a few minutes' worth of air but will let people have conversations (or, in Marcus' case, finally let out that scream), and later in the film he and Regan find another spot where making sound is possible. The combination of these two ideas gives a sequel that never feels like a complete retread, nor does it feel the need to add mythology or anything. Even the flashback doesn't really tell us anything we don't already know; the monsters coming from a meteor was established via newspaper headline in the original, so seeing it happen doesn't demystify them or anything like that. By the end of the film we know just as much about them as we did in 2018, and that is a very smart decision.

They also don't change the creatures, another plus, Most monster movie sequels (Tremors, Jurassic Park, etc) feel the need to create a different monster for them to fight, but that's not the case here: they're the exact same ones we saw before (barring whatever improvements in CGI they have afforded; the film cost 3x as much as the original). The added scariness comes from more survival type situations, like Marcus running out of air in the little tank while a monster stomps around outside, or Regan losing her hearing aid at a very inpportune moment. The film only spans like 36 hours or something like that, so there isn't much opportunity for anything grand, and (at least per my three year old memory of my one viewing of the original) there are fewer moments where I found myself wondering how this or that would have been possible to do silently.

(Do they ever eat, though?)

Long story short, they cracked the sequel code! I walked out of the first thinking a followup would be disastrous (unless it just spent 90 minutes on Emily Blunt driving around shooting monsters, which I still would have been fine with), but they went ahead and made one that's just as good as the already very impressive original. In my review of the first one I noted how I gave it four stars on Letterboxd, which I had just started using, and I hope you're as impressed as I am that I walked out, not remembering what I gave the first one (I just re-read my review before writing this one), and gave this one four stars as well. Most movies I give 3s, and when I like them I bump up to 3.5, so for both films to score 4s from me is truly an honor, I assure them. Guessing the 50m opening weekend means a little to them, but still. At any rate, if you haven't been back to the theater yet, this is a terrific choice (especially since the nature of the film tends to keep audiences quiet; of the six movies I've attended theatrically since theaters reopened, it was easily the most behaved crowd).

What say you?

*During the credits, the people next to me openly wondered how the kids didn't look three years older, assuming they used MCU style de-aging on them. This led me to think that they had no idea about the film's lengthy delay, which I found kind of sweet! I would love to be that in the dark about this sort of thing and believe a little more in "movie magic" than I ever can anymore.


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