If you and your loved ones are still debating whether or not it’s time to return to theaters and leave the safety zone where you’ve been harbored for the past year, might I suggest starting with the simplest of creature comforts? Emphasis on the “creature”.
I caught director John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place on home video two years ago and regretted missing the theatrical version, which — had I strategized a showtime to share with as few other patrons as possible — would’ve had fewer distractions, no pausing, and less background noise to detract from full immersion in its sound design, of which protracted nothingness was an integral component. As the Abbott family negotiated everyday life after an apocalypse in which the slightest noisemakers could get slaughtered by hypersensitive monsters run amuck, meanwhile in our real world the sounds of appliances, electronics, and unthreatened humans punctured their quietude and threatened to dispel the illusion of fear-fraught anxiety. The film was nevertheless great, but for the sequel I wanted a secluded getaway, which wasn’t hard to find in the current social environment.
After a flashback origin prologue that’s hopefully the only prequel in the entire series, which offers scant additional details concerning the aliens rather than overexplaining them, A Quiet Place Part II picks up seconds after the end of the original. Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt) is still in the flooded basement with her trusty shotgun and her kids Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe from Ford v. Ferrari), and li’l Baby Escort Quest Abbott, the adorable little liability who’s not old enough to keep his yap shut. It’s time to leave their carefully padded yet compromised house and seek shelter elsewhere, but without an eerily noiseless electric car at their disposal that means taking a long walk like the Fellowship of the Ring and searching for that rarest of lifesaving devices in their neck of the woods and ours: a helpful neighbor.
Enter our newest cast member, the reliably great Cillian Murphy as a broken man hiding in an old whatsits factory. He’s the last survivor of his family and has severe trust issues with other humans…but he’s a neighbor and an old friend, and he isn’t yet hard-hearted enough to look at a helpless baby and scream “GET OUT!” because of course then the screaming would get him killed.
The path forward from there is familiar ground to any Walking Dead viewer. They search ransacked places for supplies, explore shattered ruins, walk along streets full of empty cars, and collect tantalizing hints of surviving enclaves somewhere out there. Other than “How will we not die?”, the most pressing mystery is a radio channel with a single song on repeat — Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea”, as featured in numerous other works from The X-Files to Bioshock to that Kevin Spacey film no one will ever watch again. It’s not exactly a rarity.
Monsters aside, Our Heroes aren’t alone out there, but as usual humanity is divided between wildly polarized extremes — those who think they’ve set up a haven and will eventually be wrong, and the men who let their inner monster take over. The only solution, as in every SF wasteland, is to keep walking and walking and walking. And scrounge for weapons, or kludge some new ones (like Regan’s makeshift sonic blaster, still along for the ride). And stay alive to the end. And of course, save the baby.
Part II doesn’t tread newly suspenseful ground or grant any discerning personality to its spindly bugaboos, and I even managed to predict a few developments ahead of time, including the final act’s glaring security loophole. But it’s not yet tiresome to simply settle in and enjoy the central gimmick — that delicate balancing act between the sustained, high-tension hushes and the abruptly volume-11 chase sequences. However, I don’t recall the score in the first film butting in quite as intrusively as this one’s does, enough to bug me a few times. Maybe it was my imagination, or maybe the studio’s focus groups complained about too much stillness because it meant they were getting less bang for their buck Dolby-wise.
One appreciable evolution: the labors are divided surprisingly fairly. Anyone expecting ninety minutes of Emily Blunt going full Edge of Tomorrow and shotgunning creepy-crawlers with infinite bullets may feel a twinge of letdown. Over time the family dynamic shifts as circumstances demand the two teens step up. They’ve taken their share of battle damage, and things get even worse for each of them. But in their broken world they can’t just lay back helplessly like the baby. More to the point, they don’t want to. They’re dragged into positions where their parents can’t save them and they have to find their courage within, make the best of their environments, and improvise from the tools at hand. Simmonds and Jupe earn their own big-hero moments as Regan and Marcus take turns proving their mettle in the face of shrieking space horror. Clearly their parents taught them well.
Part II isn’t quite a standalone movie, but rather an extension of the original in every sense. As long as you don’t ask how Marcus aged three years in the seconds between the films, it’s an eminently lively dose of more-of-the-same that feels more natural than the typical sequel commissioned by rapacious studio bookkeepers. Its little moments of bravery can also serve as role-modeling for those of us ready to emerge from our shuttered hovels into a world that’s not quite the one we left, but for which we have the tools at hand to endure it a bit better.
Meanwhile in the customary MCC film breakdowns:
Hey, look, it’s that one actor!: The Abbott family and their traumatized neighbor remain the film’s core, but other new friends along the way include Djimon Hounsou (name all his Marvel and DC credits and win fabulous No-Prizes!) as a seemingly nice guy, and Okieriete Onaodowan (Hamilton‘s blustery Hercules Mulligan/James Madison) in the flashback origin prologue as a friendly policeman. The antagonists are largely those giant all-CG Alien Violator Starship Trooper nightmares, but Scoot McNairy (Argo, Batman vs. Superman) pops in as the leader of some seaside scum, reminding us that even in the worst apocalypses, human dudes will find a way to make themselves the enemy you want to punch most.
How about those end credits? No, there’s no scene after the QPPII end credits, but it’s just as well. If the third one follows this one’s lead, it won’t be long after its release till someone deletes the credits to the first two and stitches the entire trilogy together into one continuous epic. And I for one can’t wait to see A Quiet Place Part III in which Marcus is still 13 but is now six feet tall and sporting a scruffy, months-old college beard.