There is something wonderfully cathartic about spending an hour-and-a-half or so being kept on the edge of one’s seat in a state of suspenseful terror. And thus does John Krasinski’s A QUIET PLACE 2 deliver. As excellent as it would have been as an entertainment if it had enjoyed its original, pre-pandemic release date, the delay allows us the added gloss of the past year’s uncertainty and mistrust while continuing the story of blind invaders from space who kill anyone or anything that dares to commit the new mortal sin of making a sound.
Krasinski resumes directing, but also takes the writing reins from Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who wrote the previous film, and in doing so he has succeeded in that rarest of sequel achievements: improving on the original. This is a film that expertly paces itself between elegantly kinetic tracking shots that exquisitely convey the emotional immediacy of panic, and long static shots rendered with no less tension, but defined in warm earth tones reflecting the emotional depth of a deeply committed family unit. The juxtaposition creates a story that engages on all level, raising the stakes for the audience exponentially. Add to that the memory of how the pater familias, Lee (Krasinski), was killed off in part one, leaving the viewer with the sure and certain knowledge that no one is safe.
The prologue takes us to day one of the invasion. Lee and Evelyn (Emily Blunt) are enjoying the bucolic pleasures of small-town life at a baseball game in which their older son, Marcus (Noah Jupe) is playing. It’s a sunny day that is interrupted when fire explodes in the sky, and everyone must scurry for their lives as oversized insectoids slash their way through the population. Flash forward to day 474, and just after the device jerry-rigged by Lee before he sacrificed himself for his family, proves successful, with the help of a shotgun blast, in fending off at least one of the invaders. Armed with mission to take the device to other survivors, Evelyn sets off from the family home with Marcus, intrepid deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), and the baby she delivered in part one to find what is let of humanity.
She’s rightly disappointed to discover that the local remnant, Emmett (a grizzled Cillian Murphy), has turned misanthrope after losing his family and encountering what he terms people not worth saving. Hunkered down in an old steel refinery and the three feet of concrete that dampens the noise that will attract the murderous invaders, Evelyn is faced with keeping her family alive, and with preventing Emmett from evicting them by convincing him that at least they are worth preserving.
Emily Blunt is a master class in acting. Combining terror and preternatural determination so that both are equally palpable and convincing, she carries the film with the help of Jupe, whose thespian skills belie his tender years, and Simmonds, who doesn’t need words to dominate a scene and, on occasion her fellow actors. They also keep the film on a very human scale, for all the special effects, there is none more potent than a close-up on any of their faces reacting to what they are seeing and fighting the urge to scream.
Meanwhile, Krasinski sets the mood with tableaux that review the carnage without the necessity of egregious exposition. The slow pan over a silent railway station platform littered with the detritus left y by people precipitously fleeing in blind panic explains everything. As does the way Regan, on a quest to save her family, fails to react to the decomposing bodies she carefully steps over on the wrecked train. Krasinski also makes stellar use of the sound design, going back and forth between the hearing world and what Regan experiences as a deaf person. The overall effect in a film where the most innocuous of sounds can be fatal is to keep the audience off-kilter, never quite sure from here the next threat will manifest. It’s only right that a story in which sound has been weaponized, that the sound design should be so finely tuned as to be an integral part of the storytelling.
There is not a millimeter of extraneous footage in A QUIET PLACE 2. This is lean and mean filmmaking at its very best that will leave you breathless. And hoping for A QUIET PLACE 3.