After being postponed for more than a year from its original March 2020 premiere date, “A Quiet Place Part II” is poised to be the most successful theatrical release since the onset of COVID-19, already boasting pandemic-record box office totals for its opening weekend. The film is a fitting pick for the exhibitor industry’s savior; like its predecessor, the taut, fast-paced “A Quiet Place Part II” benefits greatly from a theatrical viewing experience in its efforts to build suspense (something writer and director John Krasinski smartly emphasized in press interviews). And though the sequel occasionally falls short of its lofty narrative ambitions, the strength of “A Quiet Place Part II” lies in its ability to serve up slickly produced thrills that perfectly suit the big screen.
After a brief detour to the day the film’s sound-sensitive alien antagonists arrived — a fun opening stinger as well as a blatant but acceptable excuse for a Krasinski cameo — the story picks up immediately after the conclusion of “A Quiet Place.” The remaining members of the Abbott family, still reeling from the loss of husband and father Lee (Krasinski), leave their farmhouse and venture into the menacing world beyond. On their journey, they meet Emmett (Cillian Murphy), a former friend transformed by grief and cynicism. They take refuge with him before Regan (Millicent Simmonds), followed by Emmett, takes off in search of other survivors in order to share the monster-killing power of her hearing aid. The remaining story alternates between this quest and Evelyn’s (Emily Blunt) efforts to protect her remaining children from the nasty creatures listening in on their every move.
“A Quiet Place Part II” tells a self-consciously more expansive story than that of the first film; while “A Quiet Place” confined its action mainly to the Abbotts’ home, “A Quiet Place Part II” employs its B-movie gimmick across a number of Americana settings, including factories, train cars, bridges and marinas. For the most part, these locales give rise to the same style of confident, cleanly staged scares that earned “A Quiet Place” its nerve-wracking bona fides. Tracking shots of characters slowly moving across ghostly landscapes, the strategic fading in-and-out of ambient noise and some clever visual cues that pay off in later scenes are key devices through which Krasinski generates tension. The dual-pronged story, too, plays out over a refreshingly brisk runtime and allows the film to build suspense through a few sequences that frenetically cut between parallel predicaments (though Krasinski’s reliance on this tool occasionally becomes obvious).
The strain of the narrative’s larger scope becomes apparent, however, as the film struggles to juggle its storylines; silly peripheral elements are unceremoniously incorporated into the film’s worldbuilding, and “A Quiet Place” is definitely not immune to the horror genre’s penchant for characters making inexplicably stupid decisions for no reason. The script’s split focus also means that Blunt, who stunned in the first film’s anxiety-inducing birth sequence, gets less screen time than she deserves for her comparably great work here.
It’s Simmonds who’s given the film’s most compelling material, conveying Regan’s desire to ensure her father’s sacrifice wasn’t in vain. The “Quiet Place” films are not-so-subtly about familial love and responsibility — Krasinski has described them as letters to his kids — and that thematic backbone comes through most organically in Simmonds’ scenes, which serve as an emotional allegory for parents allowing their children to leave home and grow into adulthood. Elsewhere, the film communicates its obsession with nuclear family units with a more contrived pathos (Emmett spends a bunch of time gruffly staring at pictures of his deceased children, while consummate mother Evelyn cradles her newborn), but these moments sufficiently ensure that the audience invests in these characters’ fates during the movie’s propulsive set pieces.
For fans of the first installment, that will be more than enough. “A Quiet Place Part II” doesn’t mess with the elements that made the prior film work, resulting in a project that’s as engaging as it is schlocky. And after more than a year of watching new releases at home, that’s still something worth shouting about.