One of the great changes to the horror genre over the last few years is the increased speed of the monsters. Gone are shambling zombies that you could outwalk while enjoying an ice cream cone and a blob that oozes down the street at an amusingly glacial pace. Because of improvements in visual effects, monsters are bigger, faster, and much more intense. Jumpscare, meet terrifying visage! And yet, the buildup is part of what makes a horror film so effective. Likable characters dropped into a strange and horrifying situation are generally less effective than those same characters in a safe and seemingly normal environment (think summer camp, a cruise ship, a plane, an exotic beach vacation, even an elevator).
While classic horror films like The War of the Worlds might have relied on neat “deus ex machina” endings, modern entries are far less conclusive. Cynically, this opens up every darn movie to sequels and eventual franchises (think The Conjuring, for example, for which the eighth entry in that universe is coming out next month) but it also plays very well with the entire idea of horror films, leaving the viewer unsettled and unsure what happens next.
Horror films also work really well with small, intimate ideas too, and that’s exactly what was at the heart of the 2018 film A Quiet Place. It offers up a barely explained story of alien invasion where the baddies are blind but have extraordinary auditory senses. They’re also violent, angry, and merciless. No “take me to your leader”, more “I’ll just kill everyone because I can.” Since sound is such an important part of the cinematic experience, the film was great fun with its emphasis on survivors making as little noise as possible, even as they adapt to living with the aliens. This lends itself to jumpscares, of course, but director and co-star John Krasinski never relied on that, with some of the most startling scenes completely silent.
Three years later and it’s time to revisit humanity in a world overrun by these nasty, violent aliens. While there are some problems with the film, the good news is that overall A Quiet Place Part II is great fun. But it’s not really a sequel, per se. It actually opens up with a first act that takes place before the first film, in what is referred to as “Day 1”.
The Abbott family lives in a quaint and idyllic American town and everyone’s collected at the local baseball field for the big game. Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and Lee (John Krasinski) are watching their son Marcus (Noah Jupe) compete while little brother Beau (Dean Woodward) and older sister Regan (Millicent Simmonds) also cheer him on. Notably also in the crowd is Emmett (Cillian Murphy), a likable family man and long-time friend of the family. Marcus is about to swing at a pitch when he’s distracted by massive objects hurling through the clouds: It’s the alien invasion. Things move pretty quickly from that point, and we are reintroduced to the terrifying and very alien creatures as they sweep through the town on a mission of destruction.
With that backstory shared, the film jumps forward to then take place after the original, on “day 474”. Both Lee and little Beau have both died [no way to avoid that spoiler, sorry] leaving Evelyn, Regan, and Marcus to fend for themselves, even as they have a baby to protect too. Regan is deaf so her family has learned sign language, which turns out to be an excellent adaptation for a world where you must remain silent.
Supplies are running low and when Regan notices a signal fire just over the mountain, they determine to head over and try to meet up with other survivors. If they can manage the trek; the slightest sound on the trail and one of those fearsome aliens could show up and kill them all. Fortunately, they have a weapon of their own: a speaker that omits loud feedback sounds, which turn out to discombobulate the aliens. Still, the trek is harrowing, and when they arrive at an abandoned steel mill, finding those other survivors takes on a sudden urgency. Turns out that it’s Dad’s old friend Emmett who is holed up, alone, and he’s completely given up on rescue, barely even able to help the Abbotts.
Regan, though, believes that there’s a survivors camp on one of the islands just offshore and if they can get to the coast and steal a boat, they might just get away from the madness. Though her brother Marcus hates the idea, she heads out early one morning to find the route and verify if she’s correct. Evelyn begs Emmett to go rescue her and the two end up on the quest together through a mostly abandoned upstate New York. Meanwhile, Evelyn has left the baby at the mill with Marcus while she heads back to town, hoping to find needed medical supplies at the abandoned pharmacy.
While the basic plot of this sequel is pretty easy to predict, the storytelling is sufficiently compelling that the film proves gripping and engaging. Everyone keeps encountering the terrifying aliens and has to repeatedly outwit them, all without making a sound. Marcus has his own obstacles to overcome too, back at the mill. When Megan & Emmett encounter Djimon Hounsou (I’m not listing his character name as it’s a bit of a spoiler), that offers some surprising twists too.
What really makes A Quiet Place Part II work are the consistently excellent performances. Megan’s entirely believable transformation to hero works very well and is even inspiring. Cillian delivers a splendid performance as the sullen, withdrawn Emmett, and as always, Emily Blunt is excellent in her role as the exhausted, overwhelmed Evelyn. With its leisurely rural settings, the film also offers a deceptively calm and peaceful background for the horror. And those aliens! Ugh. Very reminiscent of the Demogorgon from Stranger Things. ‘nuf said about that.
There’s a lot to like about this tense and engrossing horror flick. I’m not sure I took a proper breath during the last thirty minutes, nor did my viewing companion. While the editing is smoothly done, however, the ending is quite abrupt, leaving me wondering whether there was more to the script that just didn’t end up in the oft-delayed cinematic release. Will there be a Quiet Place III? Probably. Will I look forward to seeing it? Yes. This is fun horror, engrossing, entertaining, and with some good jumpscares lurking in the wings. Definitely recommended for fans of the genre.
Dad at the Movies Addendum: I’m not a supporter of tweens and younger seeing horror films as they can’t easily differentiate between fantasy, fiction, and reality. Other parents vehemently disagree and I have friends who proudly tell me about their 9yo or 12yo who loves horror films and “has seen all the big ones”. Your call, you’re the parent. I think the genre – adult-oriented horror – is best for teens and older, however, and would say that A Quiet Place parts one or two are too intense for tweens and younger, and possibly for more sensitive teenagers too.