The idea that actor/director John Krasinski was tackling a horror film was an intriguing one. After all, his brief filmography as a director consisted of nothing but comedies: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (2009), three episodes of The Office (2010-12) where he played recurring character Jim Halpert, and The Hollars (2016). So, when A Quiet Place premiered at Sundance in 2018, many were taken by surprise by Krasinski’s tight and knowledgeable control of all of the genre’s trappings while delivering a heartfelt family under stress story. Here was a film that delivered its chills and thrills with minimal gore by using those cinematic tools we take for granted as moviegoers: music, mood, editing and, most importantly, sound and the lack thereof. Krasinski knew that what remains unseen is, at times, far scarier than is seen.
Krasinski and original A Quiet Place writers Brian Woods and Scott Beck introduced us to a world where what’s left of humanity is driven into hiding by a horde of aliens hyper-sensitive to sound. Each snap, crackle and pop attracts their attention. Silence is the only mode of survival. Fortunately for the Abbott family —husband Lee (John Krasinski), wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and their children Regan (deaf-mute actress Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe)— had an advantage over the rest of the survivors since they all use sign language to communicate with Regan.
A Quiet Place was supposed to be a one-off. Heck, it even killed Lee’s character at the end. But a $340 million box-office take worldwide led Paramount to greenlight a sequel, whose theatrical release was delayed last year by a different kind of invader: COVID-19. Now, there’s no way that Krasinski could duplicate what made that first film so special. And so, he has smartly built on that world he brought to life by treating that first part, and now this second one, as part of a larger story. Krasinski expands on that world by bringing in a very small number of new characters, by hinting at other sorts of danger, and by bringing those monsters out of the shadows and into the sunlight without diminishing their scare factor. The storytelling is still lean and mean and the shocks, especially when experienced in a theater with the right sound system, are still jump-off-your-seat fun.
Before picking up where the first film left off, Krasinski takes us back to Day One of the invasion. In a tightly edited bravura sequence full of long tracking shots, we see Lee as he drives into town to attend his son’s softball game. What immediately calls our attention is how niisy this sequence is: cars drive by, people talk, radios are blaring, dogs bark and parents applaud their kids from the stand as balls are whacked. Suddenly, a fireball descends from the sky and as the parents and players leave the field, the ruthless alien attack starts. Krasinski, director of photography Polly Morgan, editor Michael P. Shawver and the film’s sound team play with point-of-view shots, sound (sometimes cranking it up, sometimes drowning it out) and precise cuts to immerse us in the ensuing mayhem. Krasinski also introduces in this sequence the film’s visual leitmotif: the separation of characters so that the circumstances they face and the actions they are forced to take mirror each other through parallel editing.
Krasinski then brings us back to the ending of Part One: day 474. The surviving Abbotts family leave their burning rural hideout after Lee and Regan weaponized her cochlear implants to defend themselves against the aliens. As all who saw Part One know, Lee didn’t survive the attack and now it’s up to Evelyn to protect her family, including her newborn son whom she keeps from crying with an oxygen mask. They reach an apparently abandoned and booby-trapped steel mill, now home to Emmett (Cillian Murphy), a former neighbor who lost his entire family in the invasion. He reluctantly lets them stay after Marcus is injured by one of his booby traps (Jupe’s cries among the film’s most horrifying moments). Emmett warns them that what’s left of humanity has changed since the invasion and that it might not be a good idea to look for other survivors.
But after picking up a round-the-clock broadcast of Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” on her radio, a determined Regan leaves the hideout in search of the signal’s origin. Emmett begrudgingly promises Evelyn he will go after her and bring her back; but after he rescues Regan from an alien attack inside a derailed train car full of human carcasses, he decides to join her in her search. Not content to split the group in two, Krasinski has Evelyn go out on a supply run leaving a still wounded Marcus in charge of the baby. Suffice it to say that the many close-ups of the oxygen tank and the door of a furnace that serves as a panic room play, like Chekhov’s proverbial gun, an important role as tension-raising devices, as the characters simultaneously face dangers of both the human and the alien kind.
If the first film was about how the parental units tried to keep a family together under the worst of circumstances, this second chapter is about how those children are forced to grow up pretty damn quick and learn to fend for themselves, especially Marcus who goes from annoying crybaby to a somewhat resourceful protector in the blink of an eye. If Simmonds was a revelation as Regan in the first film, here she is the film’s beating heart. Krasinski positions her as the family’s best hope, the one more capable of following in Lee’s footsteps. Her face and body language beautifully express a host of conflicting emotions, from determination and stubbornness to fear and sympathy ending with a medium shot on her holding a weapon that pays dividends (more I won’t say).
I wish Krasinski had done more with that very apocalyptic notion that humans are capable of far more horrors than the actual monsters; he merely uses it as the raison d’être for one of his bravura sequences near an abandoned marina. And I also wish he hadn’t ended the film so abruptly, especially when it looks like the recently announced Part Three, to be written and directed by Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter), may not necessarily be a continuation of this particular story. I can see that abrupt ending as part of that mirroring leitmotif Krasinski’s used throughout especially as it replicates Evelyn’s shotgun cocking at the end of Part One. And yet, A Quiet Place, Part Two is quite effective, scary and very entertaining; we may never know what drove these monsters to invade our planet and ruthlessly kill us without blasting a single laser gun (their attacks are physical, like those of an Earth-based predator). But in the end, does that really matter in a big budget “B” movie like this one? As the first major studio film to receive an exclusive theatrical release almost a year and a half after the pandemic was declared, it delivers the kinds of thrills that are best enjoyed communally.
A Quiet Place Part Two opens in theaters, Friday May 28