When A Quiet Place came out in 2018, the film was a triumph of the horror-thriller genre based on its use of sound. The experience of watching the movie at the theater was one-of-a-kind, as the entire audience was dead silent, and you were afraid to make as much as a peep. Three years later, John Krasinski returns to direct the prequel/sequel hybrid and the novelty has not worn off. The formula is still as dread-inducing as ever.
In the opening seconds of A Quiet Place Part II all is normal. Kids are playing baseball, the radio is on, and family friends are chatting amongst themselves. We are given a sneak preview of what life was like for the Abbott family (John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe, Millicent Simmonds) before the world was ravaged by deadly alien monsters. Then, a large aircraft is spotted in the sky, crashing down to the Earth in a ball of fire. No one knows what is going on, but they nervously make their exit. We know what is to come, and it’s only a matter of time before one of the monsters swoops in for the kill. The opening act is a terrifyingly well-executed sequence of action and thrills, effective use of dramatic irony, and raises our adrenaline levels to heights which do not fall until the credits roll.
The rest of the film takes place after the events of the first film (those hoping for more than 15 minutes of John Krasinski shouldn’t get their hopes up). After the destruction of what was their home, and the death of Lee, what remains of the Abbotts are forced to migrate. During their perilous journey to find a new place to stay, Evelyn and the children bump into Emmett, a familiar face (Cillian Murphy) they hope will help. But Emmett is not the same guy he once was and warns the monsters on the outside aren’t only of extraterrestrial origin – “the people out there aren’t the kind worth saving”.
This isn’t the first apocalypse Cillian Murphy has had to traverse: a much younger Murphy starred in Danny Boyle’s 2002 zombie film 28 Days Later. You could argue his follow-up project with Boyle, Sunshine (2007), where the sun is dying and he plays an astronaut sent to revive the big star, is another example of Murphy stuck in a dire, world-ending situation. Murphy brings experience in the apocalypse-thriller genre, and in A Quiet Place Part II he is hardened, and more importantly, he wears a face that has experienced tragedy. When Emmett is reunited with the Abbotts, he does not greet them with a warm welcome. In his experiences with the outside world since the monsters landed on the planet, Emmett has learned it is kill or be killed. The traps which surround his home are evidence of that. Murphy makes the most of his minimal dialogue to tell his character’s story and is a great addition to the franchise.
One of the many smart choices the first A Quiet Place made was to limit time spent on exposition. We do not start from day one. The movie opens on one fateful day for the Abbott family nearly a year into the apocalypse. Krasinski made sure to let us know how dangerous the monsters were, and nothing more, leaving our imaginations in the driver’s seat. The camera closes in on a series of newspapers with headlines shouting, “It’s sound!” or “We can no longer protect you.” A Quiet Place imposed the stakes on its audience immediately and put the characters in a constant state of danger with hardly any breathing room.
A Quiet Place Part II, to advance the story of the Abbott family, is more expository but not dramatically so; the sequel performs some world-building. In the opening act we witness normality dissipate into chaos, and throughout the rest of the film we are given glimpses of the wider destruction and how the few people who are left survive. Earth may not be as lonely as it seemed on first impression, but that doesn’t mean it is any safer.
Another notable distinction from the prior film is our characters feel less vulnerable. At the end of the first movie, it is discovered Regan’s cochlear implant distresses the creatures enough that they become vulnerable to a blast from a shotgun. The unkillable becomes killable. There is now a way around their impenetrable armor and this trick of disorienting the monsters is used more than a few times to save the Abbott’s skin. The creatures are still deadly predators, and humans are still prey, but the dynamic isn’t as drastically unbalanced as in the original film. The transition from A Quiet Place to A Quiet Place Part II is comparable to that of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) to James Cameron’s Aliens (1986): a little more action and a little less horror.
John Krasinski has made it known he never planned on working on a sequel to A Quiet Place, but after the success the film enjoyed, how could he not? And I’m glad he did. A Quiet Place Part II is another thrilling experience that leaves us on the edge of our seats hoping not to make a sound.