So many of my memories of movies are inextricably linked to watching them in the theater. I don’t necessarily believe that a movie is better or worse depending on where and how you watch it. But the experience around watching a movie at home, on your TV, on a computer, in crowded a theater, in an empty theater, inside, outside—those are all certainly different. I’ve watched enough movies in the last 12 years that I’ve been doing this that I forget that many of them even exist, much less that I saw and wrote a complete review on them. And yet, often I can point to a movie and say, oh yeah, I watched that on this day at this theater. It was opening night and I had no idea what expect. It was four weeks into its run and word of mouth had steadily been building. It was crowded, and I found myself sandwiched between one of the foulest-smelling individuals I’d ever been forced into close proximity with (“Avengers: Endgame”) and a woman who punched her boyfriend every time he feel asleep during the movie (“The Invisible Man”). It was empty, and I was the only person in the auditorium, nervously glancing over my shoulder every so often because even if you aren’t watching a horror or suspense film there’s something eerie about being in that vast dark room by yourself (“Drive”). I was traveling and I had a cold and I really should have been in bed but a movie I desperately wanted to see that wasn’t open back home yet was playing nearby, so I went to a late night show and ordered a big bowl of ice-cream for my sore throat and I will never forget how I felt watching that movie unfold on the big screen in front me (hello, “Parasite”). I will, for different reasons, also never forget how latecomer climbing over the filled seats in my row spilled coffee all over me right as the movie started; it was still one of my favorite movies I saw that year (hello, “Phantom Thread”). I travel frequently for my day job, and scouring the area for theaters to check out wherever I go, and then having the pleasure of revisiting my favorites every time I go back, has become a ritual. It’s for all of these reasons and more that I’ll never forget watching “A Quiet Place Part II” in the theater this week—not because it was an amazing movie (it wasn’t, but I’ll get to that in a minute), but because it was the first time I watched a movie in the theater since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. 444 days between screenings: by far the longest I’d ever been absent from the cinema since I got my driver’s license and was able to drive myself there.
It was strange to be back. With truly nothing to do and nowhere to be for a year, time compressed in a way that felt like no time had really passed at all, with only the occasional trailer from a delayed spring 2020 movie the one real indication of how long it has been. And I can’t think of a better first movie back in the theater than “A Quiet Place Part II,” a tense thrill ride full of scares that is so much more fun to watch with other people. “A Quiet Place Part II” was one of the first movies to be delayed back in March 2020 due to the escalating pandemic, and after multiple delays and setbacks, it feels like a sort of victory, a real moment of “hey maybe we actually survived this thing,” to finally be able to watch this movie, not at home, not on streaming, not on demand, but in the movie theater.
John Krasinski returns to direct this sequel to his breakout 2018 hit, which coincidentally was another memorable theater experience (Fayetteville, Arkansas, AMC; I ordered one of those overpriced flatbread pizzas from the concession stand for dinner, only to find myself paralyzed during the first half of the movie because it was so quiet it almost felt like an abomination to make even the slightest of chewing sounds). Krasinski also wrote the screenplay for this film, having co-written the first film’s based on a story by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, which picks up right where its predecessor left off. Their home now in shambles following an attack by the aliens that invaded Earth one year ago (aliens who hunt using their extremely sensitive hearing), the Abbott family goes on the move. Mom Evelyn (Emily Blunt) now has a newborn baby to worry about, as well as older son Marcus (Noah Jupe) after he is injured during their flight. Eldest daughter Reagan (Millicent Simmonds), who is deaf, discovered in the previous film that she can transmit the noise from her hearing aids to create a high-pitched frequency that disables the creatures, wants to broadcast it so that others can use it to start fighting back. They encounter Emmett (Cillian Murphy), one of father Lee’s old friends, but Emmett is reluctant to provide refuge for the Abbott’s, hardened by the experience of losing his own family but also perhaps regretful that he saw the signal fire at the Abbott’s home every night, knew it was Lee, and never reached out.
After the reunion with Emmett, the story branches out into a two-pronged narrative. After discovering a radio signal that she never was able to reach from their home, Reagan sets out to find the radio tower it is coming from so that she can send out the frequency to disarm the aliens, and Evelyn convinces Emmett to follow her. Evelyn, meanwhile, needs medicine for Marcus and oxygen for the baby, and heads out on a supply run, leaving Marcus to watch the baby back at Emmett’s bunker.
The arc of each of these stories repeatedly mirror each other a little too closely for my liking. We cut back and forth between moments of quiet suspense, scenes of introspection, and finally culminate in an action-packed fight before starting over again, and the transitions between Emmett and Reagan and Evelyn and Marcus are so smooth they’re almost disorienting. But dispute my qualms with some of the editing and overall structure, the pacing is solid, with Krasinski once again proving what a surprisingly intuitive director he is when it comes to suspense. This film is definitely contains more action set-pieces than the first, with the novelty of the mystery surrounding the alien threat having been exhausted, and it feels like even more of a survival movie with the characters being forced out of the homestead that contained them for much of the first part. “Part II” opens with a stunning flashback (in which Krasinski reprises his role as Lee) that depicts the Abbott family and their town on the day the aliens first attacked. These scenes are perhaps as real as anything, as Krasinski sets up the quintessential small town feel, where everyone knows everybody as they gather for a little league game, only to slowly disperse when they see a ball of fire travel across the sky above them. They aren’t panicking—not yet, anyway—but everyone exudes that demeanor you have when you’re in a situation where you aren’t sure what is happening, but surely it can’t actually be that bad, right? Krasinski does a great job framing the shots of his characters in peril both here and later in the film in a way that maximizes the tension by revealing information to the audience first, keeping the characters close to the front of the frame as other things—explosions, aliens running, cars careening out of control—happen around and behind them. Sound is also expertly used again here, following much the same rules established by the first movie, with the audio occasionally cutting out completely as we witness events from Reagan’s perspective, and with sequences of silence lasting so long, that we immediately recognize any moderately loud noise to signal imminent danger.
By forcing the family outside of their home, “Part II” also expands the world the story is set in by giving us a cursory portrait of what life is like for other survivors outside the limits of their small New England town. There’s weird boat people. There’s an idyllic community of families and Djimon Hounsou living relatively normal lives isolated on a small island (the creatures can’t swim, apparently). Through the production design, the film is able to reveal a lot while saying little. The set pieces include a commuter train littered with the bodies of deceased passengers, and a bridge jammed with abandoned. Those may be typical post-apocalyptic scenes, but we learn a lot from what we see inside of Emmett’s bunker too, namely his countless sketches of his children hung on walls and scattered across his desk, and a more grotesque surprise that sets off a nasty chain of misfortunes for Marcus and Evelyn.
“A Quiet Place Part II,” similar to the first film, is more tense than outright scary, even though Krasinski is able to deftly highlight the less obvious terrors. I think a lot about how genuine Jupe’s performance is, especially in this movie. These are not hardened warriors, but normal people forced to do what they have to to survive, and Marcus is just a kid. He doesn’t want to be left alone, much less with a baby he doesn’t think he can properly care for. Blunt has a strong presence, and Murphy is a really intriguing addition to the cast, but Simmonds takes the lead in this film, and she’s wonderful, replacing her disillusionment with her relationship with her dad in the first movie with a determination to do what he would have wanted done. But as much as it accomplishes in its 97 minute runtime, “A Quiet Place Part II” doesn’t feel like a complete movie. The first film may have had a relatively sudden ending, but it still felt like an ending. “Part II” concludes so abruptly, it feels like the third act was chopped off, and I have to seriously question whether that was an artistic decision, or a manipulative bid for a third installment—I imagine it is unfortunately the latter. That’s not to mention that a lot of the family dynamic that was a big reason why the first movie was so great is gone here. Reagan and possibly also Emmett have pretty clear arcs, but the other characters do not. Marcus and Evelyn are just trying to survive, which isn’t to say that we require more for their stories to be compelling, but it does feel like much weaker writing compared with the first film.
I wish that I could be as glowing about “A Quiet Place Part II” as so many others seem to be, but the noticeable reaching for a profitable blockbuster franchise looms over this movie like a storm cloud. But up until its finale, it does largely prove itself to be a well-crafted, brisk thriller, and the time really does fly while watching it. And if you are one of those people, like myself, who are thinking about returning to the movies for the first time in many months, I can’t think of a better movie out now to welcome you back into the theater’s warm, buttery-popcorn-scented embrace. There was a moment not too long into the film where I could both hear and feel everyone in the audience collectively cringe in time with the pain of the character on screen. I think in years to come I might remember that more than I remember the movie itself.
“A Quiet Place II” is currently playing in theaters, and will be available to stream on Paramount+ 45 days after its release. Runtime: 97 minutes. Rated PG-13.