A Quiet Place Part II succeeds in much the same way as the original — as a sturdy, thoughtful, and understated exercise in genre.
Box-office success on a tiny budget basically guaranteed that 2018’s compact, gripping little monster movie one-off A Quiet Place would get a quick sequel. The surprise is that it’s a decent match in terms of quality to the original, albeit differently arresting. Even though writer-director-star-Jim from The Office John Krasinski died in the first one, Part II begins in flashback to “Day 1” of Earth’s invasion by ugly space monsters who reflexively slice up anything that makes noise for some reason. A Little League game is unceremoniously interrupted by spaceships falling from the sky and alien teeth chewing up a small town. We already know that the family will survive to hole up at their farmhouse and discover that daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and her hearing aids are the key to battling the beasts, but this sequence, rather unfussily captured in gliding steadicams and CG-assisted long takes, is all of a piece with what makes both films work as well as they do. Krasinski’s tendency to try and underplay everything — from dialogue to exposition to violence — is the biggest asset to this pair of films.
What starts as an idyllic aside, a partial sweet memory, becomes a (relatively) big, brassy chase sequence, one that cleverly cuts to the instant immediately following part one’s final cut to black. Dad’s dead, the farm is uninhabitable, and Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and the kids (Simmonds, Noah Jupe, and the latter’s baby brother-in-a-box) have to seek shelter elsewhere, which they eventually find at the hideout of former neighbor and family friend Emmett (Cillian Murphy), first glimpsed in that opening sequence. He lives in an abandoned factory, inside a soundproofed steel tube, and he’s even worked out how long he can be inside it before the air runs out, a crucial detail that’s completely unarticulated in dialogue but which you’re allowed to intuit on your own.
By necessity, A Quiet Place Part II needs to expand its horizons. We need to get off the farm, meet some new characters, grow the world a little bit. The film achieves all this admirably but without succumbing to either being a “bigger, badder” rehash or simple bloat (actually, it’s a few minutes shorter). Whereas part one was a bit more of a lean creature feature, this iteration spends a lot more time with its characters, and the adults take a back seat to a sweet, sad story — one in a similar shape to much of genre entertainment lately — about the kids moving on from grief and growing from it. Krasinski’s aversion to emphasis forces him to illustrate the character beats with a Spielberg-ian broadness — though let’s be honest, not nearly to the level of instinctive craft — and let the actors fill in the blanks of nuance. That’s especially true of the thread about the necessary bond forming between Emmett and Regan (both Murphy and Simmonds — whom you’ll remember is deaf — are perfectly cast, and there isn’t an ounce of fat on their performances). The fallout is that there’s less screen time for the beasties, but that’s not to suggest that there aren’t plenty of simple thrills to be had; a run-in with some nasty humans and a visit to a strange island colony provide the story with some mystery and some late, unexpected stakes (and an always-welcome Djimon Honsou), and it wraps up with another abrupt, emotionally-satisfying cut-to-credits, all of it blissfully wrapping up in under 95 minutes. It’s not much of a secret that these films aren’t great, but given the state of the art, they’re setting a relatively, welcomingly high standard. More genre fare should be this thoughtful and sturdy.