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Review of A Quiet Place II: The Silent Sequel screams suspense

Pay attention. The sequel to A Quiet Place is finally out, and it's even more poignant in the post-pandemic age.

Get your ears in gear for A Quiet Place Part 2.


Paramount

Listen up. A Quiet Place II is finally here, and it’s even more resonant in the pandemic era. The silent-scare sequel, opening this weekend, takes an assured step into a wider world with more precision-tooled suspense, although it doesn’t expand on the first film as much as you might hope.

Originally scheduled for March 2020, Quiet Place II was only days away from theaters when the COVID pandemic blew up cinematic schedules. More than a year later, A Quiet Place II is out Friday in US theaters. I saw the film in a theater with social distancing and health screening measures in place, and you should check local guidelines and restrictions in your area. Like many blockbusters this year, the film will be available to stream soon, in this case on Paramount Plus.

Like the first film, Part II is again directed by John Krasinski. Packed with tension, the sequel returns to a world in which aliens are good listeners and the slightest noise can kill. Emily Blunt is back from the first film, bruised and shaky as a postpartum mum keeping a lid on loss and pain as she fights to put one foot in front of the other. It’s an agonizing combination of grief and determination, evoking the horrible agony of seeing your children in pain.

Millicent Simmonds is a strong lead as the daughter determined to turn her deafness into an advantage. Her resolve to go above and beyond drives the story, testing the parental caution of her loved ones. Meanwhile, Noah Jupe gets the short end of the stick in terms of doing stuff that seems kinda ill-advised, but the actor sells the experience of being a scared kid in a scary world.

In a particularly shrewd piece of casting, Cillian Murphy replaces John Krasinski as a new father figure. Maybe it’s the amount of Peaky Blinders I binged during lockdown, but Murphy brings a huge amount of tension just by showing up. He’s literally introduced as a doting dad at a little league game and still manages to induce a cold sweat of unease. The star of 28 Days Later, Inception and Dunkirk brings such an ambiguity and potential volatility to any role, he’s the exact opposite of Krasinski’s fatherly reliability.

Cillian Murphy goes from blinders to deafness.


Paramount

Like the first film, sound design is key, and expertly done. From the chaotic opening, the film deftly switches between noisy carnage and nail-biting silence, although it isn’t built around the deaf daughter’s noiseless perspective as much as the first film. What was innovative and unique then is deployed lightly here, although Krasinski isn’t above busting out the occasional cheap jump scare just to keep you on your toes.

If anything, this second outing shows these films are more than just gimmicky sound design. Polly Morgan’s cinematography marries beautifully with the sound design and music. In the tensest moments the camera creeps remorselessly, the frame filling with agonizingly slow movement, and at its peak crosscutting between different nerve-racking story strands to ratchet up the tension. There’s a great shot where the camera swirls in from above a terrified character, a jarring angle that meshes the visuals with the sound to immerse you in the character’s disorientation and fear.

Although conceived well before the pandemic, the Quiet Place movies have taken on a new resonance in the COVID era. The cataclysm begins with vague and wildly misinterpreted news reports from China before dramatically arriving closer to home. Survival depends on the smallest, simplest precautions. Having gotten used to being locked down in their bubble, the family takes its first tentative steps venturing out, when they must creep through the world without touching anything as the most innocuous of objects and the most everyday urges could kill. And just as bad as the threat itself is the constant stress about how other people are reacting.

By asking how people respond to that threat, part 2 takes a step into more familiar post-apocalyptic genre territory. What does it take to survive? Can empathy and hope endure, or does saving your skin mean losing your humanity? These are all familiar questions from zombie movies and the like, and A Quiet Place II doesn’t put much effort into imagining what’s happened in the wider world so it sidesteps comparisons with other post-apocalyptic societies.

The pleasure of TV show The Walking Dead, for example, is seeing the various communities that cope and restructure in wildly different ways. But A Quiet Place Part II doesn’t take advantage of its unique story world. The sequel stretches rather than enlarges the core idea. It’s a good idea, but it’s still only one idea.

Part 2 does make use of a wider range of environments for more nerve-shredding set pieces. But ultimately it fudges the world-building with only vague hints about the causes or consequences of the aural apocalypse. You might expect a creature feature sequel to level up a bigger, badder strain of monsters — they fly now! — but this second outing is more of a continuation than an escalation. If you think about it afterward when your heart rate has returned to normal, the story loops back without introducing any major twist, ending with a whimper rather than a bang.

Like the first film, this sequel in some respects wants to have its cake and eat it too. In both films the presence of a baby is set up to be a huge problem because the little mite could scream uncontrollably at any moment. But while the film is happy to throw some brutal obstacles at the non-infant characters, and protecting the baby is a major driver of the characters’ actions, it doesn’t seem to want to follow through on the potential danger posed by a screaming baby. There are flashes of nasty macabre horror, but the movie ends up tip-toeing around them to keep the right side of a mass audience.

Part 1 found its thrills by showing a family already equipped to survive this specific disaster. The second film misses the opportunity to reveal how others survive and communicate without those specific skills. Still, it does build on the pleasures of the first film by showing characters coming up with capable and creative solutions to the awful situation. They make mistakes but never do any dumb stuff just to advance the plot. Sure, people might have stood more of a chance if they tidied the loose crap off their desks, and why is the fate of humanity pinned to some cryptic clue?

OK, so like the first film, the various solutions the characters adopt might not hold up to scrutiny. (Why didn’t they just live by the waterfall?) But in the moment it feels satisfying smart and believable. Taut and economical yet fully realized, the film is expertly constructed from intricate setups and punch-the-air pay-offs. Every safe place has its own danger, every solution its own problems, and every choice comes back to haunt you.

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