In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on MovieJawn.
Make no bones about it, A Quiet Place is one of the finest studio horror movies ever made. A true “movie movie” in that it utilizes every tool of the medium to maximize terror, thrills, and emotional weight, all in service of a story that’s ultimately about the importance of good communication. Add to that the idea that it was directed by John Krasinski, as unlikely a candidate to helm an effective thriller as anyone, using his real life spouse as his co-star to boot, and it becomes somewhat of a novelty too. A relatively big money shocker that has some honest to god heart behind it — whodathunkit?
So naturally, there had to be a sequel.
A Quiet Place Part II was one of the last movies I had on my critical docket prior to lockdown in 2020. If I remember correctly, I was scheduled to see it on the literal day that everything went dark, and as such, the screening was cancelled. Soon after, the release was delayed indefinitely, and that was that. It has now been over a year since this disappointment occurred, and just this week I was finally able to see the film. This begs the question: was it worth the wait?
Yes! Yes yes yes, one thousand times, yes!! A Quiet Place Part II gets my emphatic approval. It aptly fills the large shoes of its predecessor, expands upon the story without feeling like filler, and takes on new, unexpected resonance in a world recovering from a pandemic. It’s exciting, deeply emotional, and scary as hell. It showcases the talents of a now reliable favorite (Emily Blunt) as well as a future superstar (Millicent Simmonds). Most impressively, it secures John Krasinski’s place as a respectable talent in the world of both directing and writing. He received sole writing credit for this entry, and it’s plainly evident that he understands what made the original an immediate classic. It is rare that the follow up to such a solid film can manage to hit every beat without some degree of contrivance, especially in the horror genre, but A Quiet Place Part II pulls it off perfectly.
The film begins on day one of the invasion, back when life was normal and people were noisy. The Abbott family is at young Marcus Abbott’s little league game when the appearance of a fireball in the sky causes panic. The ballgame is immediately called off, and as a town full of dumbstruck citizens makes their way home to tune into the news and hopefully find out what’s happening in the skies, all hell breaks loose. The creatures we all recognize from the first film wreak havoc in a prolonged sequence that is equal parts bombastic action and silent intensity. We follow the Abbotts, now split into two parties, as they seek to find one another amidst the carnage and make their way to safety. You’ve seen pieces of it in the trailers, and have probably convinced yourself that you are ready. You are not ready. It is insane.
We then find ourselves in the present day, moments after the end of the first film. Lee Abbott is dead, the new Abbott baby has been born, and Evelyn Abbott is ready to face whatever comes next. Armed with scant survival supplies, a gun, and Regan Abbott’s hearing aid, which, as you may remember, causes a vulnerability in the creatures, the remaining members of the family decide to leave home and try and find others who are facing this silent apocalypse. They ultimately come across Emmett (Cillian Murphy), a former acquaintance who is now living alone in a compound of sorts, while Regan stumbles upon a piece of information that may give her the power to turn the tide against the creatures that are holding humanity hostage.
After the explosive opening, the film only takes a short reprieve before ratcheting up the tension once again. It’s a tension that maintains a consistent pitch until the credits roll. This is achieved by splitting our main characters into multiple groups and sending them on disparate, equally important narratives of their own. Krasinski milks maximum tension out of this structure by cross-cutting between the separate plot lines at impossibly perfect moments, furthermore finding visual parallels to connect each. Never does the timeline between these crosscuts cheat either. It’s never as if one scene pauses while we check in with another (which I HATE). Everything is constantly moving forward, so even as we’re watching one sequence, we still feel the active tension of the one we just left.
Tension is also created on a larger scale by the introduction of longform ticking time bombs that exist under the more immediate concerns. A depleting oxygen tank, a festering infection — at every moment there’s always one thing going wrong and another thing that could go wrong. It’s relentless.
Small details organically populate the frame as well, many of which speak to the world at large. Since this entry is less localized in plot than the original, these details are essential. A sequence at an abandoned, overgrown train station is chock full of horrifying imagery. A pair of pumps lie empty next to a briefcase, indicating how suddenly the initial attack occurred. A hole in the side of a train car is designed in such a way that we can imagine precisely how it was taken down by the beasts. Effective sound design, too, is employed to jack up the tension. At a few points in the film, we hear things from the point of view of Regan, which is to say we hear nothing at all. This intermittently puts us into her experience, which is appropriate since she is essentially the main character. These silent segments also work as a stylish piece of disorienting flair, in which the audience, already cued to be hyper aware of any sound at all, is jostled further out of their comfort zone. This little trick is only applied a handful of times, which helps maintain its effectiveness and prevents it from becoming a novelty. For a film that features a fair amount of aggressive scares, it also exercises a considerable amount of restraint.
A Quiet Place Part II is undoubtedly blockbuster fare, but at the center of it all are the same thematic concerns of family and communication that gave the original film such incredible impact. On the surface, this is a movie about monsters that are attracted to sound, but just below we find a fable about leading by example, about doing what’s right and working to make the world a better place regardless of personal cost, about building legacy through action rather than image. After a year of being stuck inside due to COVID, values such as these resonate that much harder…as do evil monsters that thrive on our inability to talk to one another.
Side note: Everyone should check our Wonderstruck, the lovely, under-seen Todd Haynes flick from a few years back starring Simmonds. It’s a delight.