It’s hard to craft a quality sequel to a surprise hit. It’s even harder to craft a quality sequel to a surprise horror hit like “A Quiet Place” — a movie never intended as a franchise-starter. But writer-director John Krasinski managed to follow up his lean, terrifying sci-fi experience with a sophomore effort that might not match the original’s freshness, but still offers plenty of frightening moments.
“A Quiet Place Part II” takes viewers back to day one of the alien invasion that completely changed the world — turning even the faintest noise into a death sentence. Krasinski steps in front of the camera again for a short time for the prequel sequence that establishes his family’s relationship with a new character, Cillian Murphy’s Emmett, a town citizen with a family of his own. After a strange meteor shower interrupts the small town’s baseball game, the blind, armor-plated aliens that hunt by sound attack without warning in what is one of the most intense attacks of its kind in genre film.
The movie then transitions back to the moments just after the ending of the original. Emily Blunt’s Evelyn and her two children, Regan and Marcus, must leave their once-peaceful sanctuary of a farm and venture out beyond the sand path to seek out survivors. They have a weapon that can make the alien creatures vulnerable, but there’s simply too many to fight — especially when trying to care for a newborn.
After meeting with Emmett, who has lost his entire family to the creatures, Evelyn and her children take shelter in an abandoned factory. But Regan, still feeling guilt over her father’s last moments, vows to venture to a nearby radio station, where she can use her hearing aid to disrupt the alien monsters and allow people to fight back. It soon plays out like an ongoing homage to “The Last of Us,” as Emmett and Regan traverse the remains of society, hiding from the monsters and from humans that have become monsters.
The prequel sentence does a great job of establishing the world as it was in contrast with the devastation that remains more than 400 days since the alien arrival. It does produce problems with the environmental storytelling of the original movie. If the alien attack devastated the town in one single day, why are there local newspapers everywhere that establish the nature of the aliens? It’s a minor problem, but when so much of the story and world building was conveyed through the environment, it’s hard not to notice the changes in the sequel.
The setting doesn’t feel as fresh or as interesting as the original, but that’s understandable. Still, Krasinski, who took over sole writing duties, manages to craft an experience that does just enough to expand upon what worked in the first movie without losing that claustrophobic uniqueness. The scope and scale may be ever so slightly larger, but the movie never attempts to do too much. It sidesteps the problem many horror sequels have in amping up the body count or trying to see just how gruesome they can be. Instead, it maintains its focus on the family and their futile attempts to simply survive in a world that is no longer theirs.
The tension is ratcheted by splitting the cast into three groups — not because of stupid decisions made by characters (though, there are a few of those), but out of necessity for survival. Each group has its own arc and development in what is some impressive character work. Emmett must learn to trust again and find a reason to leave. Regan must move past her father’s death and find hope again. Marcus must finally find the courage within to save his family. Evelyn has perhaps the least amount of character work, but Blunt’s strong performance of a mom trying to save her children, still carries the emotional weight of the movie.
Krasinski continues to prove how adept he has become as a script writer and director. There are some extremely powerful moments in “A Quiet Place Part II” — established by both the impressive script and some top notch direction and cinematography. This is a beautiful film with some very inventive creature moments. Even in its most rote moments, the use of sound design and close up shots manages to convey a sense of absolute terror that so many horror movies just never manage to come close to.
“A Quiet Place Part II” is in theaters now.
Josh Rouse lives in Lawton and writes a review column for The Lawton Constitution.