***1/2 out of ****
(for terror, violence and bloody/disturbing images, and some language)
Released: May 28, 2021
Runtime: 97 minutes
Directed by: John Krasinski
Starring: Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cillian Murphy, Djimon Hounsou, John Krasinski
Out of necessity, A Quiet Place Part II was delayed for over a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, in perhaps the biggest twist of all, this highly anticipated sequel – the first 2020 release to finally hit theaters — works unexpectedly as a poignantly relevant parable in late May of 2021, about taking those first steps back out into a post-pandemic world.
It’s also worthy of being the movie that gets you back into the movie theater, especially in how returning writer/director John Krasinski uses both sound and silence to provoke wince-inducing suspense. The impact of that is exponential based on the quality of the given big screen (and high-end surround) experience.
In every respect, A Quiet Place Part II is a skilled successor to the unique original, a breakout word-of-mouth hit that, as a horror-thriller, subverted (and often eliminated) garish genre staples to great effect while also working as a heartrending parable about parenting. (If you need a primer about it read my review or, better yet, go watch it.) The fact that Krasinski duplicates much of what worked before without having his sequel ever feel tired or repetitive (quite the opposite, actually) is impressive.
In tone, craft, and character focus, Part II is a consistent companion piece even as it expands the world. Yet even there, Krasinski shows welcome restraint. Where most sequels might blow things wide open, Krasinski makes the evolution more natural, a gradual next step that stays within the franchise’s more intimate aims, not only in terms of narrative and scope but also thematic scale.
This approach also allows room for another sequel (which may be a calculation), but it also has the virtue of making for a better self-contained movie, one that’s sure of its goals, boundaries, and specific ambitions. All of that is the result of a director having a clear, confident vision.
That vision is on display from the jump in the opening preamble, a flashback sequence that establishes this mythology’s origins. It patiently builds towards what we know is coming (but that they don’t), escalating in an exhilarating, extended set piece. Vividly and fiercely executed, the prologue alone is a director’s showcase. (It also drops subtle callbacks and references, which are rewarding, the kind that also solidify just how indelible the original actually was.)
What flows from there is an ingenious trajectory, right up to its final abrupt cut-to-black (mirroring the first film) that works as its own satisfying conclusion. From start to finish, the plot invents a wonderful series of “How on earth will they get out of this?!” scenarios, each one getting worse before they get better. Also, Krasinski isn’t above a cheap jump scare, but he’s also not reliant on them.
Of the returning characters, the women are best served. Emily Blunt wields a resilient, near-superhuman wherewithal and calm as a mother in complicated, life-and-death situations that, at times, involve leaving her kids in order to protect them. As the deaf daughter Regan, Millicent Simmonds exerts a courage all her own, with a conviction that feels genuinely earnest (rather than some contrived cloy to female empowerment), and that’s a direct credit to her prodigious talent. In less nuanced hands, it would’ve been a pander.
Noah Jupe is given less as the son, who flops back and forth between being shell-shocked by risk-averse fear to acts of reckless stupidity. Even so, Jupe is nevertheless up to the task for selling some of the film’s most grueling, excruciating demands.
Krasinski’s absence from the bulk of this story would’ve been felt if not for Cillian Murphy, the sequel’s most prominent cast addition. As a lone survivor who’s lost his family, his arc is the film’s most affecting, and surprising (along with Regan’s, as both work in tandem).
There are some really beautiful exchanges between Murphy’s Emmett and Simmonds’ Regan, even including intense ones, not merely as sentiment but as actual character-defining moments. To see where Emmett starts, where he ends, and how he gets there is one of the film’s biggest rewards. It’s inspiring, actually, especially in how he articulates his self-reflective epiphanies with a world-weary candor.
And that’s part of what makes A Quiet Place Part II such a timely parable. As these characters begin to take stock of how they dealt with this unforeseen attack, they must deal with loss, regret, memories, and pain, all with the guilt of what they didn’t do and where (and who) they failed — Emmett especially.
There are also COVID analogs beyond the themes, particularly as these survivors face off against the deadly creatures with a viable “vaccine” (one that was established in the first film). To implement it requires a great deal of risk, and faith, and a willingness to step out into a world where the danger is still present. It also warrants a necessary humility when it’s easy to assume that you’ve finally garnered the upper hand.
All of these ideas are at play (serendipitously, of course, as this final cut was locked before COVID-19 was a threat) even as the plot machine also reaches a spine-tingling apex. The film’s two concurrent storylines climax in parallel as Krasinski cross-cuts back-and-forth between them. Then, as it builds, the finale actually begins to transcend its own brilliantly conceived construct (which would’ve been satisfying in its own right) to become something that’s moving and meaningful, recalling the best of M. Night Shyamalan’s turn-of-the-century peak.
This tight, taught 90-minute thriller is more than just a ride, it’s a true journey, one that ends on the kind of perfect note that leaves you wholly satisfied yet wanting more. I suspect we’ll get it.