Lee Abbott (John Krasinski) pulls up in his pick-up truck on main street. A long tracking shot captures him walking past the town’s small businesses: a couple wave from the local diner, a dog sits in a truck. Everybody knows everyone in this tiny enclave. It’s the kind of place where Lee can walk into the local market to grab some oranges and not pay for them. His son Marcus (Noah Jupe) is playing a little league game at the adjacent ballfield. He arrives to greet his wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and their daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) just as a meteor comes streaking across the sky. In an instance, the sound-hunting, sonar-clicking monsters arrive to decimate the town. And during the harrowing, terrifying opening, wherein a car chase ensues, we’re reminded of all the spine-tingling reasons we loved Krasinski’s directorial debut, A Quiet Place.
That well of adoration is tested, however, in the writer-director’s sequel: A Quiet Place II. A film with all the makings of a Spielberg-influenced classic pitched to horror suspense, only to succumb to emotionally discontinuous storytelling.
The thriller’s main events take place shortly after the previous film’s conclusion: Lee is dead, but his family remains. His wife Evelyn gathers the salvageable supplies amongst the rubble while she reassembles the baby’s soundproof crib. Her son Marcus assists in rummaging through the destruction while his deaf sister Regan recovers the amp and microphone that proved so instrumental to defeating the invading aliens a mere few hours ago. With flames engulfing their farmland home, it’s time for the battered family to hit the road in search of other survivors.
They do come across one straggler, their former friend Emmett (a heavily bearded Cillian Murphy). He’s living alone in a disused factory. And he’s not very welcoming to his former neighbors. With cracks and lines strewn across Murphy’s face you can track the heartache: Sketches of his son decorate the factory, while regret courses through his every labored breath. Their plight would be totally bleak if not for Regan hearing a radio station playing Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea.” Believing the song is a signal meant to direct people toward safety, Regan heads off on her own adventure to investigate, opening the door for a Spielberg-influenced narrative. Only for Emmett to join her.
Blunt doesn’t feature heavily, here: Krasinski casts her in a side-mission to find an oxygen tank for the baby (in a world where the sharpest sounds lead to death, we never feel the dramatic resonance the child’s mere existence should cause). Rather A Quiet Place II is totally Marcus and Regan’s story. An injured Marcus, for instance, is left to care for his infant sibling. Regan journeys through treacherous woods with Emmett toward the sea to discover survivors. The overriding message: The new generation will inherit the earth isn’t particularly groundbreaking, a weak through line to connect the film’s heart-pounding proceedings.
Maybe the moral rings tinny because the emotion underlying Krasinski’s sequel makes little sense. For a family who just watched their patriarch die before their eyes, they don’t find much time for mourning. You could attribute that to their taut situation. They’ve lost so much they only know how to continue. Yet barring a couple outbursts, you’d think A Quiet Place II was set years after the fact. Not the next day. How do you wrestle with the absence of a father-figure? Does his presence still remain? Krasinski isn’t interested in answering those questions, or even exploring their dimensions. His film is all the weaker for it.
The sequel also underutilizes the clear hurdles it proposes: Emmett explains how the outside world isn’t worth saving because those who remain are now sinister. But we only receive a glimpse of such deadly tidings. Considering the air-gasping opening third, set in an idyllic town, to not demonstrate how exactly the stragglers in this present-day world have changed feels like a massive missed opportunity. Krasinski tries to flex the narrative into a road movie. And yet the sights we see along the way are likewise minimal.
It’s so odd where the writer-director decides to world build and where he doesn’t. He doesn’t expand the main players by much nor offer many new locales — save for an Edenic island — but fills in the many blanks left by the prior film. I didn’t gravitate toward answers being spoon fed to me, here, such as how these aliens arrived on earth. To me, those mysteries helped to give A Quiet Place a shrouded aura that played so well with the heightened sensory experience. Filling in those holes provided unnecessary details, often slowing the 97-minute thriller to a crawl.
Certain components do sing: Simmonds is quite simply brilliant. Regan is often told what she can’t do, and what’s too dangerous. She ignores those calls for meekness to heroic effect. One scene in particular, a total punch-the-air kill, shapes her in the mold of Sigourney Weaver in Alien. The encounters with these creepy crawlies still packs a punch, especially as Krasinski adds Spielbergian suspense through visual cues from Jurassic Park. He also inserts a far more vibrant palette with regards to sharp reds and verdant greens. While I don’t think the sound is leveraged toward dramatic ends, here, as well as in the prior installment, the craft is still intermediately astounding as it builds to create big-time scares.
The problem: These incredible moments of tension, though well-conceived, never add up to a satisfying whole. That seems to make sense because the characters are all on their separate journeys. In fact, they might have ten minutes in the same frame together. Even when editor Michael P. Shawver does combine this tryptic narrative, however, it all feels a bit too over-calibrated to elicit the anxiousness the filmmaker is aiming toward. The subdued edge partly stems from the listless story. Make no mistake: A Quiet Place II is an interlude to a larger whole. And by the final abrupt shot, the penultimate episode would probably be more at home in a television series than as a standalone film.
By the conclusion of Krasinski’s sequel we’re provided with large heroic swings and huge range from Simmonds; Murphy adds a melancholic contour to the family unit; Jupe gives a physically taxing performance. But I have no idea what story the director wanted to tell — emotionally or narratively — or what bandwidth, beyond the shared concept, the two movies are meant to connect on. Rather A Quiet Place II is a string of well-placed, smartly created scenarios leveraged for maximum tension that only swings us to the next film. Rather than allowing us to enjoy this one.