Writer’s note: The second paragraph of this article (just below the first image) contains a basic outline of the film’s premise. There are no spoilers that weren’t already inferred in the film’s own trailer. However, if you want to completely avoid potential spoilers, skip over the second paragraph.
It’s hard to imagine there was any doubt films like Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982) or Back to the Future (1985) wouldn’t become instant classics. They are just so ingrained in our popular culture that it sometimes feels like they were destined to be remembered. In truth, filmmakers have no idea which films will stand the test of time and which films will be forgotten. Even today, the movie industry has no idea what will strike a chord with viewers, as proven by the surprise success of John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place (2018). In the years since its release, A Quiet Place has earned a reputation as one of the best and most original thrillers of modern cinema. Therefore, it’s unsurprising that a sequel was promptly ordered. Just like the aforementioned hits, A Quiet Place didn’t need a follow up, but that didn’t stop it from being delivered. The question is whether or not A Quiet Place Part II (2021) is as satisfying a sequel as Aliens (1987), or as disappointing as Jaws 2 (1978).
Set directly after the events of A Quiet Place, we are reintroduced to Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt) and her children Marcus (Noah Jupe), Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and the infant Beau. The world is still overrun by the blind alien creatures which operate purely on sound, forcing the surviving inhabitants of earth to remain as silent as possible. With the discovery that Regan’s cochlear implant can be used as a weapon to disorient the creatures, Evelyn and the kids managed to survive their final encounter, but must now venture into the countryside in search of a new shelter. Even with their new weapon against the monsters, Evelyn’s only priority is to survive and protect her children. Regan on the other hand is wracked with guilt over the loss of her father Lee (John Krasinski), and wants to find a way to use her cochlear implant to end the alien threat. They eventually come into contact with an old family friend Emmett (Cillian Murphy), but there’s arguably no friends in a post-apocalypse.
The concept for A Quiet Place was key to its runaway success, as there was something chilling about watching the heroes have to survive without ever making a sound, lest being heard and killed by the terrifying creatures. That’s the kind of narrative conceit every filmmaker wishes they came up with, due to how immediately compelling it is. The downside is that a sequel will inevitably struggle to have the same effect. Amazingly, A Quiet Place Part II remains fresh by sticking to the original film’s roots, thus not trying to unnecessarily up the ante. This is a common mistake made by sequels, as they often try to increase the stakes by blowing out the action to over the top levels. Just because we made it through one adventure alive, doesn’t mean the threat the creatures pose isn’t still there. Happily, director John Krasinski proves he’s aware of this, delivering a new thrill ride nearly as tense as the original.
The next hurdle is that A Quiet Place’s ending doesn’t immediately indicate the need for a sequel. Sure, it ended on a cliffhanger, but all the narrative tensions had been resolved and the open ending didn’t leave much room for expansion. It was the kind of ending that allowed the viewer to just imagine where it would go once the credits rolled, and all the possibilities were thematically rich. In these cases, sequels opt for a slightly redressed version of the original film’s plot and story, allowing filmmakers to deliver the same experience but with a slightly fresh coat of paint. At best, this results in a film which feels redundant and at worst a film which backtracks the original’s arc. While a Quiet Place Part II‘s narrative can’t help but feel like a retread on a plot level, the thematic arc manages to actually progress things forward, making it a rare unnecessary sequel which actually feels necessary.
That being said, there are elements which definitely wouldn’t be here if Krasinski knew the original was going to be a hit with audiences. Certain narrative choices which made A Quiet Place special would’ve been very different, thus making it more rote. Thankfully, A Quiet Place still stands on it’s own, but that has forced Part II to come up with obvious workarounds. Namely, the inclusion of Cillian Murphy as Emmett does sometimes come across as a way to fill the hole created by Lee’s demise. Lee was the paternal figure in the first film, so Part II needed that role filled. Much of Part II’s runtime is dedicated to justifying his inclusion, which arguably slows the narrative down as certain points. It’s not a huge issue, considering that Emmett is a very likeable presence and Krasinski manages to weave in thematic purpose into his arc.
While many of Part II’s best aspects are clever workarounds for avoiding the trappings of redundant sequels, there’s one area in which it outshines nearly every science fiction, horror or thriller. Most films of this kind are only tense because they avoid showing you the monster, thus letting your own imagination and sense of fear do the work. As soon as the otherworldly threat is shown, that fear immediately falls away. Part II manages to be tense, thrilling and immersive, despite breaking this very obvious rule. We got to see the creatures in the original’s climax, so there’s no point in concealing them for the sake of tension anymore. You’d think that would immediately sap Part II of any thrills, but that’s simply not the case. Somehow Krasinski maintains the dread even while keeping the threat completely visible. It’s this trick that makes Part II nearly transcendent.
Even though Part II smartly avoids a climax which leads to further adventures, that doesn’t stop the film from adding subplots that expand the mythology. Consequently, we are given a handful of story threads showing more of the world beyond the principle characters. Not all of these story threads are equally compelling, but they thankfully don’t distract from the main narrative. These elements make the film feel larger without over complicating the streamlined plot. However, the lesser elements do result in some slightly uninteresting sequences that don’t add much beyond the obvious world-building. It’s not too much of an issue, seeing as Part II never tries to inexplicably tie everything together. Krasinski is a smart storyteller and understands this is a broken world with many people on their own survival journey, meaning not everything needs to neatly fit together in the standard Hollywood style.
The best thing to come out of Part II’s success is the realisation of John Krasinski’s undeniable talent. No one expected the directorial debut of this long time comedic actor to be an instant thriller classic, but that’s exactly what happened with A Quiet Place. When the sequel was announced, many waited with anticipation to see if that success was a fluke. Given all the things riding against Part II, the fact that Krasinski managed to deliver a sequel that feels like a worthy coda to the original should be taken as an indicator of the director’s undeniable talent.
Best way to watch it: In a double feature with A Quiet Place.