When actor and director John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place” became a smash hit in 2018 — the rare top 15 hit based on original material, easily Krasinski’s biggest success behind the camera since he started directing a decade earlier — one of the most popular narratives around its creation was a compelling one: Krasinski, not at all a “horror guy,” had finally found his filmmaking footing with a scary movie. For the film’s inevitable sequel, Krasinski has not at all let up on the thrills and chills and alien-centric terror, but he’s also bulked up on the drama, emotion, and very human pain at its center. And while his ability to direct stunning, action-driven set pieces on par with any other blockbuster has grown, so too has Krasinski’s initial motivation: to make a movie for his family.
His onscreen family, however, has to do that (mostly) without its patriarch. When “A Quiet Place” ended, Krasinski’s Lee Abbott had died while protecting his family from the monstrous aliens that had overtaken Earth more than a year prior. That pain was tinged with its own strange joy: the Abbotts, including wife Evelyn (Krasinski’s real-life wife Emily Blunt) and kids Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe), had just cracked a way to temporarily disarm the beings, enough to kill them. Oh, and Evelyn had also just given birth to a new Abbott in the middle of an alien attack. They’re strong people, these Abbotts.
Krasinski’s followup — entirely written by him, with character credits to original screenwriters Scott Beck and Bryan Woods — opens in flashback, to the day the aliens arrived. While we know what’s to come, Krasinski uses the conceit to pump up the emotion early, while also securing the bonds between the various Abbotts and introducing a few new characters who will become important later. Krasinski has his genre grammar down pat now: harried news reports play in the background, a tease about the apparent quietness of the Abbotts’ small town amuses, and the ultimate reveal that something is coming (hell, something is here!) still manages to thrill.
And he’s certainly not forgotten what makes the alien antagonists so scary and unpredictable: their uncannily sharp hearing. That little twist still comes with its unique terror, an inherent tension in watching anyone do anything that might kick up a bit of noise. But there is also the anxiety in what Krasinki’s characters can see, especially daughter Regan, deaf and fearless, who embarks on a journey to save her family and the world at large that only her own dad might have dared undertaken.
Forced away from their ruined family farm, the Abbotts set off with a dim hope: perhaps friends are waiting at the other end of one of those signal fires that burns every night. As they reach the (literal) end of the sand trails that have for so long given them a bit of safety (soft material, good for walking without noise), they cannot possibly dream of what they will find. While the Abbotts were able to build themselves something of an idyll — beyond the bad stuff, including their deceased youngest, Beau — the rest of the world has not been so lucky, and when they discover who is waiting at the end, they must grapple with new questions.
Krasinski’s film was originally set for a March 20, 2020 release, one that was inevitably pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic. Suffice it to say, the film’s setting — picking up post-flashback in a world ravaged by society-breaking, nerve-shredding terror for over a year — and messaging hits differently now, particularly when it comes to the trauma that drives characters like Marcus and Emmett (Cillian Murphy, cast as an Abbott pal who appears in the flashback and is then, now very changed, what awaits them at the end of the sand trail). Emmett’s argument that there is nothing (and no one) worth saving, even with the Abbotts’ big, frequency-based plan, goes against the grain of similar films, and even though the (eventual, literal) manifestation of Emmett’s fears doesn’t quite gel with the intimate feel of the franchise, it’s still uncomfortably relatable these days.
And yet Regan won’t give up, and her quest to bring the Abbotts’ knowledge of the aliens’ weakness sets her on a course that opens up the world, both cinematically and emotionally. While Krasinski offers a series of massive, heart-pounding set pieces — many of which hinge on putting all the Abbotts in crazy peril at the same time, an obvious gag that is still effective — what’s most exciting about “A Quiet Place Part II” is its steady sense of expansion. (Okay, well, no, the most exciting part of “A Quiet Place Part II” are those set pieces, but the steady expansion is the thrill that remains.) There is, of course, a world still out there; there are, of course, other people still out there, but Krasinski resists any urges to go too big or too broad. (Amusingly enough, that measured world-building also sets the stage for still more stories and sequels.)
The conceit that drives this burgeoning franchise — aliens, but they hear really well — makes for effective enough horror and tension, but Krasinski’s very real, very deep affection for the family he has placed in the middle of all this is what seems destined to keep truly growing. As his chops as an action and horror director have only increased, care of those natty set pieces and plenty of real ingenuity, Krasinski hasn’t lost sight of the human drama that makes it all work. Krasinski never meant to be a horror guy, but he’s always known what scares people.
“A Quiet Place Part II” will open in theaters on Friday, May 28 from Paramount Pictures, it will begin streaming 45 days later on Paramount+.
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