When A Quiet Place opened in 2018, it became a bit of an overnight phenomenon thanks to the refreshing cinematic experience it provided. The Internet was abuzz with accounts of eerily silent screenings devoid of the usual sounds of patrons munching on popcorn, slurping their over-sized beverages or making a pigsty out of their immediate surroundings with nacho-overloaded plates. The wonders of word-of-mouth marketing bolstered by viral tweets made A Quiet Place into an anxiety-inducing cinematic ride.
Interestingly, what this experiential phenom did unbeknownst to almost everyone was that it obscured the fact Krasinski’s silent blockbuster did not have much else to fall back on. In actuality, the simple act of rewatching A Quiet Place reveals quite a lot of shortcomings a viewer in the cinema would have been more than happy to disregard, assuming they would have noticed them at all in the first place. This post-apocalyptic universe was infested with monsters hidden for the most part out of focus or in the corners of the frame was presented in media res, with very little exposition hidden mostly in elements of set design (which, upon inspection, present themselves as frankly ridiculous and bordering on self-parody). It had the element of mystery on its side as well as a subtly woven thread of family drama which survived mostly on the strength of the natural chemistry between Emily Blunt and John Krasinski and their interaction with their children (Millicent Simmons and Noah Jupe).
Enter A Quiet Place Part II and you shall notice that neither of these elements are made use of. First of all, the element of mystery and surprise is naturally disposed of because we know what these monsters look like, we know how they operate, we understand the nature of their threat and – most importantly – thanks to the way the first film resolved – we know very well how these seemingly invincible aliens can be defeated. This natural plot resolution presents a common problem encountered in sequels, which I like to refer to as ‘the terminator redundancy’: a diminishing returns effect which turns an essentially unstoppable villain into cannon fodder. Remember The Terminator and how difficult it was for Sarah Connor to destroy that cyborg sent from the future? With each passing sequel the filmmakers would have to counteract the natural diminishing returns effect by increasing the power of the main villain, with the edge case of the effect being clearly visible in Terminator: Salvation, where ‘regular’ terminators were picked off by main characters with relative ease and in large numbers. A similar effect is witnessed if Alien is compared to Aliens where the threat of the xenomorph is significantly reduced and must be counter-balanced in other ways, but the bottom line is that space marines take them out without much ado, which in turn makes the viewer lower their guard.
The same effect is in operation in this film where – following the prologue set in the past, which explains the origin of the threat and gives the viewer a brief moment to see John Krasinski back in his role as Lee Abbott – the characters take the monsters out at their leisure as they traverse the eerie landscapes of depopulated America. What is more, as the story unfolds, the aliens are found to have another weakness which is pivotal to the development of the narrative, all of which works towards undermining the threat posed by these creatures. Notably, the filmmakers introduce another popular counter-measure found in sequels and TV shows alike, i.e. a secondary villain; or at least an idea of one. One of the most recognizable examples of this notion deployed in an unfolding narrative is The Walking Dead series which could not sustain itself if it was only about the group of protagonists fighting against zombies. As we’ve established, ‘the terminator redundancy’ would kick in rather quickly and the show would lose its entertainment value in a blink of an eye. After all, who would want to watch a group of characters wade through hordes of low-level opponents who are only really threatening in large groups and are easily outmanoeuvred?
However, A Quiet Place Part II does not really commit to this notion either and only teases the idea there are other more dangerous people out there without diverting the narrative to explore it in more detail. This may have been a conscious decision aimed at keeping the story lean and streamlined while leaving enough loose threads of lore for future movies to pick up and make use of. Instead, they opt to introduce an ambiguous character of a former family friend (Cillian Murphy, unrecognizable when bearded) whom they use as an element of mystery, a potential red herring and a narrative catalyst. As a by-product of his introduction, the story also surrenders its other main strength carried over from the previous film – the chemistry between the Abbott family – as the story effectively splits in two and the viewer must follow Regan and her new guide on their quest to potentially fix the world as well as Evelyn trying to take care of both her injured son and a new-born baby.
This setup – effectively abandoning most of the major strengths the first film succeeded on – presents A Quiet Place Part II with a difficult task of finding something fresh to hold the viewer’s gaze, which is where Krasinski’s growth as a director comes into play the most. In contrast to the preceding movie that did not rely heavily on set piece construction until its final act, Krasinski opted to inject quite a bit more narrative complexity into the story which translates to more elaborate action set pieces and a subdivided final act coming to a unison climax; which is quite effective, if I may say so. Moreover, Krasinski’s direction is quite a bit more assured in here, as he frequently deploys sneaky single-take sequences of the variety found in early Spielberg movies. He also seems keen to borrow a handful of visual references from Jurassic Park, e.g. the silhouette of a creature seen through a window definitely harks back to a scene where velociraptors are after Tim and Lex. There are more subtle Spielbergian winks peppered throughout the movie and – naturally – the entire final act smells decisively of Spielbergian ambition despite its localized scale.
Nevertheless, effective and immersive as it is, A Quiet Place Part II doesn’t exactly capitalize on its greatest assets, the natural chemistry of its characters, which is pivotal for this film to retain rewatch value or to sustain future sequels (with the third instalment having been green-lit almost immediately after the film’s release). It would be impossible to see how this gimmick can be developed further since the element of surprise is completely gone now, the element of suspense utilized in the beginning (i.e. we know but the characters do not yet realize they must not make noises to survive) has been used as well and effectively enough, and the development of characters has been mostly side-lined. In fact, the only character to have a satisfying arc in this story is Regan who slowly grows to fill her dad’s shoes, but if is enough to warrant coming back to this movie or for it to propel the series forward remains an open question.
What I will say, however, is that A Quiet Place Part II succeeds as a cinematic experience. It must be seen with an audience under the best possible conditions to generate satisfactory levels of visceral entertainment. Its cheap jump scares work when delivered through massive speakers and the scale of the set pieces benefits immensely from the film being projected on a massive screen. It’s a well-designed theme park attraction and as far as I am aware, roller-coaster rides are not amenable to miniaturization. You can’t recreate at home what this film provides in a public screening. Therefore, even though it is a solid piece of spectacle-reliant entertainment, I am afraid A Quiet Place Part II is a single-use product.