Reviewed by Kristy Puchko
A Quiet Place was one of the most exhilarating cinematic experiences of the last decade, unfurling a unique vision of horror that weaponized audience screams against them. Often when watching a scary movie, a good scream can release the tension that’s brewing as your spine tingles. However, while watching this 2018 monster tale in which a single peep could get you ripped into ribbons, a scream unleashed only made viewers feel more unnerved. This clever device paired with a stellar cast made John Krasinski’s horror offering a twisted crowd-pleaser and a smashing success. Three years later, he’s back with his co-writers and cast for A Quiet Place Part II, a supremely scary and satisfying sequel.
Directed by Krasinski, A Quiet Place Part II continues the survival saga of the Abbott family, picking up where the shotgun-reloading finale of the first film left off. Emily Blunt stars as recently widowed mother-of-three Evelyn Abbott, who is desperate to find her kids a new safe haven after theirs was destroyed. With her newborn baby swaddled and soundproofed, she and her frightened son Marcus (Noah Jupe) and her hearing-impaired daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) venture forth into a world of noise-chasing monsters and uncertain allies (Cillian Murphy and Djimon Hounsou).
Krasinski and his fellow screenwriters, Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, offer a fascinating expansion of A Quiet Place‘s world. With broken hearts and bleeding soles, the family bravely steps off the paths they paved in sand, abandoning their farm and the Southern ghost town in their dust. The moment where Evelyn’s foot first hits dirt is electrifying, not only because of what it means for the family–they are leaving everything they know behind–but also because you can hear it. That soft thud and the scratch of grass underfoot may as well be an airhorn to fans of this franchise, who have become finely tuned to how any sound can invite devastation.
Krasinski and company take advantage of this audience anticipation with a breath-snatcher of an opening sequence. It’s day one of the invasion. The Abbotts are blithely enjoying some time in town, cheering Marcus at his Little League game. Proud dad Lee Abbott (Krasinski) is alive, bringing oranges slices and bottles of waters like any supportive dad worth his sand. Then, something dark and burning hurdles down from the sky. Panic ensues. Lee and Evelyn grab the kids and head to their cars, but getting home safely won’t be so easy. Lee and his daughter flee to a hiding spot with some neighbors. They don’t know what they’re facing, but we do. So when an old man begins to pray aloud, our pulses races, or nerves rattle, and we brace for the inevitable violence. However, those mysterious monsters aren’t the only threat in the wider world. Living in isolation, silence, and the persistent peril of creature-carnage, that changes people. The Abbotts will learn this first hand as they stumble on vicious booby traps and a savage tribe of survivors. Yet a strange radio signal might carry cause for hope.
The adventure aspect of A Quiet Place Part II is superbly suspenseful, especially as it separates its heroes and bounces back-and-forth between their respective brushes with annihilation. Frankly, it’s astonishing how Krasinski has evolved as a filmmaker. He’s crafting sequences that will have audiences at the edge of their seats, while carving out a story of family and loss that is profoundly poignant. It’s little wonder he’s scoring comparisons to early Spielberg. Because for all the top-notch scares and relentless tension this horror-thriller has to offer, the most exhilarating bits are the seeing how its characters develop.
Having lost her husband, Evelyn is on her own, making tough choices about how to best protect her children. She must battle her grief while forging for necessities and hunting for a new home. Pulled away from familiar corners and corn silos, Marcus can’t cower, but must learn to stand up for himself against the beasts that would tear him and his infant sibling limb from limb. Then, there’s Regan. The Daddy’s Girl who just lost her hero strives in every moment to live up to his example. So, amidst so much action and terror, A Quiet Place Part II offers a touching coming-of-age story about two young siblings who realize that no parent can truly protect you from the worst of the world. It’s a harrowing lesson, perhaps especially now. Yet, the film regards it with a steely acceptance instead of a mournful resignation by firmly setting its climax on the shoulders of Jupe and Simmonds.
The grownups of this film give grounded, nuanced performances that reflect the beauty and horror of being a parent in a world gone mad. But the performances that make or break this movie are on two children, and those kids absolutely knock it out of the park. Jupe, who won much critical praise last fall for the Shia LaBeouf sort-of biopic Honey Boy, is riveting. With wide, watering eyes and a traumatically trembling lip, his terror is deep and contagious.
By contrast, Simmonds offers resilience and a defiant strength that makes her seem every inch the protégé of action-hero Emily Blunt (think Edge of Tomorrow‘s Full Metal Bitch). With a slew of silent close-ups, Krasinski trusts Simmonds to carry the meaning and emotion of big moments of defeat and success. She speaks through sign language, which is subtitled. Yet Simmonds communicates most clearly without any words. She does so with a gaze we cannot drop and a mouth set firmly but not in frustration or fear but determination. Sometimes a soft smile will inspire us to hope, or a raised eyebrow will spark us to dread. Truly, we are at mercy of the whims of Simmonds’ visage.
Krasinski and his sound design team underline Regan’s arc and perspective by pulling the dropping sound from the film’s track. Completely silent scenes give a hearing audience the experience of being deaf in this wild world. As in the first film, this is employed for scares, revealing a monster to us before her. But in its most impactful moment, the lack of sound amplifies Regan’s fear that she is inescapably on her own. In a low moment, she sobs with her head bowed, and we can’t hear her cry. We can’t hear anything. Then, we see a human hand creeping into frame, gently and slowly. It’s a comfort not a confrontation. And once Regan feels this touch, the sound returns for us. It’s a subtle touch that cues the audience to breathe again and relish this rare moment of relief. It’s splendid.
All told, A Quiet Place Part II is a stupendous sequel. Krasinski and company masterfully built on the world, story, and themes of the first film, doing right by its characters and their fans. It delivers on suspense and scares with callbacks. Yet it never falls into the footsteps of the first film, happy to tread a new path. Boasting performances that have matured along with its young leads, this fantastic follow-up does so with captivating confidence.
Kristy Puchko is Film Critic at Riot Material Magazine. Ms. Puchko (@KristyPuchko) is a New York-based film critic and entertainment journalist, her work has appeared in Vanity Fair, IndieWire, Nerdist, and Pajiba (to name a few). Ms. Puchko is a regular contributor on the Slashfilmcast, and teaches a course on film criticism at FIT. To see more of her work, visit DecadentCriminals.com