“You can’t stay!” Those aren’t the words a nerve-frayed family running from killer demons wants to hear. Yet as they seek refuge, they encounter resistance in this sequel to one of the most innovative drama/horror/sci-fi films ever made, A Quiet Place. It was uniquely wondrous and scary. Is A Quiet Place II equally frightening?
It’s still a mystery how the actor-turned-director/co-writer John Krasinski (The Office) pulled off the original $340M international blockbuster, thus starting a franchise. But using sound design (Oscar-nominee Erik Aadahl), guiding his wife actress Emily Blunt (Sicario) and realizing the potential of a very inventive script, he created a behemoth. A post-apocalyptic nightmare where monsters with ultra-sensitive hearing track down what’s left of humans, by sound. The bad dream continues.
Evelyn Abbott (Blunt) is a survivor. She walks perilously around her deserted environs with her deaf teen daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), tween son Marcus (Noah Jupe) and her baby, always looking over her shoulder, scared creatures will hear and kill them. She hauls their rifle and a makeshift baby carriage. The two older kids carry what’s left of their valuables and a speaker that can emit ear-splitting noises. Their mission is to find a safe haven and other survivors. And if they can locate help, how will they be received? “You can’t stay.”
This sequel has an innate challenge. Its premise doesn’t have the advantage of surprise. It’s not introducing a state-of-the art audio accentuation and deprivation technique that intensifies how scary and fatal a mere whimper of noise can be. That’s already been done. The script, direction and special effects desperately attempt to plaster on more human drama, keep tension high and involve the protagonists in constant peril. Yet somehow this time, generic horror movie gimmicks are glaringly obvious. The monsters don’t look all that scary—more like computer generated puppets. The gore is not that gruesome. Even as the action shifts to an island where expectations for an astonishing OMG crescendo arise, nothing is truly mind boggling or astonishing.
A few new characters are added, played by Cillian Murphy (Peaky Blinders) and Djimon Hounsou (Amistad), but largely this is still a very intimate, personal family drama. Blunt continues to be the courageous mom, but now shares the limelight. The brave Regan character is the prime focus of several quests for survival. Simmonds is up to the task, displaying a courage and confidence that is admirable. In contrast Murphy as Emmett, an old family friend, is the exact opposite. As pessimistic as Regan is optimistic. All other performances gleam accordingly. However, Hounsou does not get the screen time or character arc an actor of his stature deserves.
Marco Beltrami’s score entrances. Polly Morgan’s camerawork does the job. The 97 minutes of footage goes by at a quick pace (editor Michael P. Shawver, Black Panther). Colors (art director Christopher J. Morris), locations (production design Jess Gonchor), interiors (set decoration Michael J. Amato and Nancy Haigh) and every article of clothing (costume designer Kasia Walicka-Maimnoè) work well, but not extraordinarily well.
To the film’s credit, the rhythm of scary do-or-die escapes is well measured while red-herring plot twists lead audiences down wrong paths. Regan’s non-hearing experience, with its vulnerability and intrigue, adds another dimension. And in the beginning, as a fiery object hurtles through the sky over a suburban baseball game, there are glimpses of a character that will make viewers question if what they’re seeing is real or unreal.
The strong, natural momentum of a family trying to survive will satiate horror fanatics, but possibly not mesmerize them. Those who saw the first film may be more enthusiastic—particularly teens, tweens, young women and girls. If that contingent buys enough tickets, expect a A Quiet Place (part III). Which is either a good thing or going to the well too many times. Depending.