More than a year after its planned wide release, A Quiet Place Part II is finally here. It’s a solid, well-directed, and well-acted film. It reminds me a little of Alien followed by Aliens: thefirst was a deeply felt, intelligent classic followed by an excellent action/horror film with many more creatures to deal with. Part II here has more monsters, more close-ups of monsters, and a lot more action.
The story line picks up the moment after the first film ends. But director John Krasinski (who wrote the film as well as directed it) wisely brings himself back as an actor as the film opens by going back to Day One of the attack. He’s a most welcome screen presence (especially after so many will see this as their first film enjoyed in a theater), and his presence at the beginning of the film brings back our memories of his heroism as well as connecting him strongly with daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), who takes over the lead as the film progresses. We also meet Emmett (Cillian Murphy), who figures into the action later.
Once the film reminds the viewer of the danger and devastation awaiting the unsuspected or the noisy, it moves us back into “the present,” where Krasinski’s Lee has died, and the family must survive on their own. Without Lee, the family moments are less effective, but the film reminds us that son Marcus (Noah Jupe) is emotionally high-strong and needs lot of encouragement from Mom (Emily Blunt, a.k.a. Mrs. John Krasinski), that Regan is smart and feisty and creative, and Mom is still a rock—albeit one with a tender heart.
Without giving away the plot, suffice it to say that the family discovers that one or more people in the region are alive. Connections are made, journeys are struck out on, and each of the family members develops their own story. The big leap viewers have to make is that while they are telling us that the action picks up right after the first one ends, Marcus looks quite a bit taller and more mature, which of course the actor was when it was made. Blunt and Simmonds can get away with it; Jupe can’t. But as long as you accept it (and it took this viewer a while to do so), we file it away under suspension of disbelief and we go on. Fortunately, his actions in this film befit someone older than the Marcus of the first film, and that helps to make us forget how quickly this young and talented actor is growing up. As in the first film, Jupe has to maintain a look of terror throughout much of the film, but he gets both tender moments and a gut-wrenching scene of intense pain and screaming that round out the performance. What he is put through reminded me a bit of some of the comments on 2005’s War of the Worlds (yes, the Tom Cruise one), where poor Dakota Fanning was so traumatized for so long that some critics were worried about the effect the performance might have on the actor.
After a while, however, the film belongs to Simmonds, who gives a quiet, intense, and moving performance—all while being the film’s de facto action star. Her scenes with Murphy show a maturity we didn’t see in the first film, and highlight the actor’s and character’s strength, tenderness, and intelligence.
Sequels are fascinating in how they choose to keep parts of the first film, and how they choose to branch out or simply depart. The film benefits greatly by the characters and the actors. We want to be with these people that we so fondly remember from the first film, and the film benefits from our loyalty to them with our memories of the family times in the first film. We don’t get much of that here, and it could have used more of that, even without Lee’s presence. But these are people we want to be with, and that alone is a strength. I
n terms of the acting, we know that Blunt can be a strong screen presence and a very good actor, and the film simply confirms that. Murphy’s presence is less slick and more macho than in any film I’ve seen him in, and those who know his history are reminded of the similar world he was challenged with in 28 Days Later…. He’s solid, but his character is no replacement for Krasinski. By the end of the film, Simmonds has essentially taken over the role of her film father as the strong and capable lead, and has shown the world that she can hold a film together on her own. Jupe is clearly an actor of sensitivity and range, and he could hardly have a stronger calling card to casting directors than his work here.
There was a kind of perfect storm of plot, actors, and directors in the first film. The sequel necessarily loses the element of surprise and freshness that a surprise hit like the first film possessed. With Dad gone, it’s also lost the strongest connector of the family. But Krasinski has made some wise choices here. He has spread out the action geographically, and has given each main character his/her own story-within-the-film. He’s also chosen to go the rather familiar route of more horror and more action, but his continued astute use of silence still sets this apart from the more routine action/horror films. We miss the strong element of family, however, that so tenderly characterized the first film, and that is a bit of a loss. The film isn’t devoid of quiet moments, but the depth of family love we associated with those moments in the first film isn’t here. Yet we get more activity, more jump scares, and more people (e.g., Djimon Hounsou making a quiet and unfortunately short appearance).
Viewers with happy memories of the first film should enjoy this one. Just being with these folks is a cinematic pleasure. Krasinski can’t quite capture the lightning-in-the-bottle essence of the first film, but that would be impossible. It’s indeed a smart sequel and a thoroughly enjoyable experience, just not a particularly deep one.