This sequel to 2018’s post-apocalyptic thriller has plenty of set-piece moments, but fewer new ideas.
Set immediately after the end of John Krasinki’s extremely popular original, it has Evelyn Abbot (Emily Blunt) and her children Regan (Millicent Simmons), Marcus (Noah Jupe) and (oddly nameless) new-born baby journey from their flooded farmhouse bunker to seek a place of greater safety and the sanctuary of neighbours.
This is a far more expansive film than its progenitor, cautiously stepping out into the wider world. The terror of the tight family unit against the monstrous aliens becomes a bigger story about devastation and mankind’s survival, but it remains resolutely focussed on the plight of our trio of heroes.
However there’s much that’s familiar, particularly the look and feel. Again filmed on 35mm, cinematographer Polly Morgan faithfully recreates the golden colours and visual tone that her predecessor Charlotte Bruus Christensen crafted for the original, and the all-crucial sound design by Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn is similarly impressive. In the initial scenes, Krasinski offers us a succession of visual reminders of the set-pieces from the previous movie – the half-destroyed grain silo, the lines of red warning lights, the shelf in the shop which displayed a space-shuttle toy and that damned exposed nail in the wooden staircase; all memory triggers that take us straight back into the story and its world.
And that world is still a terrifying place, the monsters haven’t gone away. Heralded by a soft rattling noise, they’re a constant threat and are still intent on destroying any living thing that dares to make a sound. The difference is now the family aren’t protected by their safe homestead refuge and must forage into an unknown, devastated countryside.
Moving into ‘difficult second movie’ territory, Krasinski has a challenge on his hands. The monster situation and the family dynamics are well established in the first film, so he opts to go bigger. More people, more locations, more monsters. On the whole, it works, but this approach masks a lack of invention. The narrative takes a familiar second-film route of having its main characters split up on parallel journeys, with moments of coincident action in the two tales cross-cut to heighten their intensity. However, the intersecting tales merely distract from the fact that neither journey seems sufficiently interesting or developed in themselves.
Crucially, although there’s plenty of life-threatening incidents and potential unseen danger there’s a distinct lack of true suspense, by which I mean a creeping sense of imminent and inevitable danger often when the viewer knows more about that danger than the protagonists do. This requires set ups that are more elaborate than just the ever-prevent possibility that a monster might jump out from the forest. The first A Quiet Place excelled in this – we knew (though the parents didn’t) that the family’s youngest child was carrying a forbidden space shuttle toy with its electronic sounds just a button press away. We knew that the exposed nail was just waiting to impale an unknowing bare foot, most likely at a moment when a scream of pain could mean life or death. And, the mother of all suspense devices, we could predict with near certainty that a pregnant Emily Blunt would go into labour at a most inconvenient moment.
There’s nothing as effective as these in this sequel, although it tries. The narrative contrives two distinct threats of suffocation that are too-obviously signposted, but they don’t induce anything like the same sense of tension, perhaps because by now we suspect the film is very unlikely to kill off characters who we’ve become so invested in. Instead, many of the scenes feel familiar from other movies – the Alien franchise is an obvious precedent – and so I suspect this sequel, which relies more on jump scares than true suspense, will be less thrilling on subsequent viewings while the original film remains eminently rewatchable despite some illogical plot devices.
The opening scene of the original film that culminated in the swiftly brutal and upsetting death of the family’s infant son was shocking because it signalled no holds were barred. Much like the infamous ice-cream van scene in John Carpenter’s Assault in Precinct 13, it viscerally introduced the danger and took us out of any comfort zone: who could kill a child?
The equivalent scene in this sequel is a flashback to the time when the town is first ravaged by monsters, scenes of swift carnage and panic as a quiet town’s kiddy baseball game is rudely interrupted by an alien invasion. This sequence, prominently featured in the trailer, is thrillingly choreographed, but we’re not as invested in the fate of the anonymous population. Nevertheless, the scenes of frightened townsfolk suddenly dealing with overwhelming panic and destruction are tense. Again, the sequel choses to go big, more aliens, more deaths, more spectacle. But it really works, it’s a magnificently gripping opening.
As before, the actors are solid. Emily Blunt is excellent, and Millicent Simmons has a more prominent role than in the previous film as the determined and resourceful daughter. Noah Jupe as the younger son is good, but is let down by a less-than-nuanced scripted character; in the first film he was a nervous, hesitant child, but in the sequel his constant anxiety and fearfulness becomes his only defining characteristic, and this rapidly become irritating.
Cillian Murphy is effective as the initially hostile neighbour, displaying a depth beyond what the scripted dialogue allows. His character is clearly a surrogate for John Krasinski’s father figure from the previous film, but the film develops this knowingly: although he is capable with useful military training, there’s a plot thread on how he will never quite measure up to the children’s dead dad. And thankfully, Krasinski doesn’t contrive any sort of romance.
Oddly, the film feels like the middle film in a trilogy. It expands on the world and progresses the story, but despite the parallel narratives it doesn’t have a satisfyingly self-contained story arc. There’s a thrillingly spectacular finale, yet the film’s ending is open and inconclusive as if it’s setting up for the next part. Taken by itself, this makes it far less satisfying than the first film, despite the frequently exciting sequences, but perhaps we should wait for that inevitable third film and judge the likely trilogy in its entirety. This film just about gets away with reintroducing us to a now-familiar world and relying on jump scares and dangers to keep the momentum, but if a trilogy is indeed the plan, A Quiet Place Part III will need to introduce more ideas and suspense.Follow @davefilmblog