Any concerns that A Quiet Place Part II might have exceeded its sell-by date during the 15 months that its release was delayed by the pandemic are quickly dispelled by shots of deserted streets, train tracks overgrown with weeds and supermarket shelves stripped bare. Is this A Quiet Place Part II or Lockdown I?
The original 2018 film, starring Emily Blunt and her husband John Krasinski – also its director and co-writer – was scary, successful (taking $340m) and often silent. In both movies, carnivorous aliens roam the planet, poised to kill at the drop of a pin – these sightless predators hunt by sound alone. At the start of the first film, the plaintive beeping of a toy spaceship was all it took to give away a child’s location, and to guarantee that he wouldn’t be back for the sequel.
While that picture kept its monsters for the most part hidden or merely glimpsed, the follow-up commits the cardinal error of showing them more frequently, sometimes in broad daylight. With their windmilling limbs and stunted torsos, their family resemblance to Flanimals is now plain for all to see. At least they don’t look so cartoonish up close. The armour-plated head opens in segments like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Inside lurks a giant spiralling cochlear that twists and twitches at the slightest sound. They are, literally, all ears.
This time around, Evelyn (Blunt) is a widow, her husband having sacrificed himself to save his family at the end of the previous movie. She has three mouths to feed: her teenage offspring Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe), as well as a baby that can be conveniently shut away in a lidded box with its own oxygen tank whenever the need arises.
The first film’s concept had a purity which can only be compromised here by opening the story out to include other survivors, not all of whom survive that long. The one played by Djimon Hounsou is so transparently expendable that he doesn’t even merit a name. Movie monsters endure, but black actors in the horror genre should still think twice before packing a toothbrush.
Also new is the surly, grieving Emmett (Cillian Murphy), who lives in an abandoned steel mill with his Walt Whitman books and his Walt Whitman beard. In the basement is a furnace which he has adapted into, well, a quiet place. Inside you can scream to your heart’s content without anyone hearing, exactly like the Big Brother diary room. The oxygen is limited, but it’s not as if that will result in a scene of breathless peril. Right?
When Regan picks up a radio broadcast sending a message of hope from the outside world, Emmett accompanies her in search of its source. He fails at first to appreciate that Regan is deaf – she and her family communicate through sign language – and that she can’t read his lips if he insists on mumbling into his whiskers. “Enunciate,” she tells him, like a drama coach who’s sick of Method actors.
The film gets some mileage out of switching occasionally to silence during chaos or carnage, so that hearing viewers are placed in Regan’s auditory position, though it feels like a mistake during one such scene to allow sound to flood back in as soon as calm is restored. Regan’s world – and that of Simmonds, who is also deaf – is soundless always, and it’s misguided to make equilibrium synonymous with hearing.
The new film has inevitably lost the concision of the last, in the same way the minimalist frights of Alien were swapped for the wham-bam action of Aliens. An intermittent jokiness has been allowed to creep in, such as in the shot of a monster dangling its arm from the smashed windscreen of a runaway bus. In other instances, though, the stakes have been raised. The first film showed someone trying not to scream after stepping on a rusty nail. Now the nail is a mantrap.
Krasinski, the sole writer this time as well as an admirably brisk director, clears up the matter of how the aliens got here: a flashback shows a meteor streaking across the sky. Other questions are left unanswered. Does noisy weather set these creatures off? I’d love to see what happens in a thunderstorm – do they try to claw the clouds from the heavens? Perhaps that’s being saved for the next instalment.
At least there’s enough in this one to shout about. Michael P Shawver’s editing is ambitious (at one point, he cuts between three sequences which would be suspenseful enough individually) while several set pieces have an impressive breadth. Especially good is a scene at an empty railway station where the platform is strewn with discarded high-heeled shoes. Tiptoeing through an abandoned carriage, Regan passes a skeleton slumped in its seat – isn’t there always someone who sleeps past their stop? – before she is forced to hide while a monster creeps down the aisle towards her. You can see what she’s thinking: please don’t sit next to me, please don’t sit next to me. We’ve all been there.
“A Quiet Place Part II” is in cinemas from 4 June
A Quiet Place Part II (15)
dir: John Krasinski
[see also: Twenty years of feminist classic Legally Blonde]
This article appears in the 02 Jun 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Return of the West