Hey Queens and Kings. Today we’re going to talk about a new theatrical release — A Quiet Place Part II. Written and directed by John Krasinski, this is the sequel to 2018’s A Quiet Place, which I think is safe to say was a surprise hit for that year. The premise of blind monsters attacking anything that makes noise seemed a little simple, but it performed very well at the box office and provided a tight 90-minute thriller. Part II is very much the second part of that first story. This movie picks up immediately where the previous one ended and continues its themes and thrills.
I want to talk about three things in this movie. I want to talk about the stakes of the drama in this movie. I want to talk about the central theme of optimism for life, which was the main thing I thought about after seeing this movie. I’ll also talk a little bit about the editing of action sequences.
If you have not seen the original A Quiet Place, the premise is very simple. At some point in time, the modern world was descended upon by extraterrestrial beings who are overwhelmingly powerful and violent. These beings are also “blind” and see through echolocation. Basically, if you make a noise they sprint ceaselessly at the origin of that sound to demolish whatever is there. It’s kind of a nonsense premise for an alien race, but a good pitch for a movie. The original film followed the Abbott family, with lead actors John Krasinski and Emily Blunt playing the father and mother of the family along with their three children. One of the family’s children — Regan — is deaf and her deafness weaves itself into the story in a few different ways.
I wouldn’t say the original premise was unique. It’s an extrapolation of a tension-building mechanic used in other movies like Jurassic Park or Pitch Black, but it’s the only movie I can think of where the blind/deaf dynamic is put front and center. A lot of the production in the original film leaned into Regan’s deafness with some scenes depicted in almost complete silence. Which made the movie feel unique beyond it’s simple premise.
More important than the premise of original film was its establishing of stakes in the world. Horror or thriller films are at their best when there is an ever-present sense of danger. On the surface, it didn’t seem like A Quiet Place was going to offer that. When you’re watching a movie with two leading stars and a group of three children, it’s easy to fall into the sense of security that none of these characters are actually in any danger. Movies don’t kill kids and they rarely kill their main characters. You may not be actively thinking that when you watch movies, but it’s easy to intuit. When you don’t have that sense of security, movies have a lot more tension in them.
Anyone who saw the first A Quiet Place will know this because that movie did not mess around. In the first few minutes of the first movie, we see one of the Abbott children get killed by one of the monsters. The child’s death served the narrative by creating tension in the family unit, but it also established the sense of danger in the world that I think defined that first film. After that kid got yeeted out of existence, the audience knew no one was safe. Anything could happen and indeed many things did happen in that first movie. It’s hard to replicate that in a sequel, especially when one of the main characters isn’t there anymore. Part II isn’t capable of pulling the same trick again, so it’s not as tense as the original.
This means the lethality of the monsters feels significantly diminished as well. In the first film, the mere sight of a monster induced anxiety because they felt so deadly. But now we’re in Part II. And the family has figured out a way to manage the monsters — which we see early on in Part II. A lot of monsters get dealt with in this movie and as a result Part II feels more action-centric — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is different from the first movie. It’s a notable change because one of the best things about the first movie was how high the stakes felt due to the threat of danger from the monsters, but that’s pretty much gone.
Optimism for Life
What Part II does expand on from the original is its central theme of having optimism for life. I can’t blame you if this theme flew under your radar while watching the first movie. I remember the marketing referenced Michael Bay a few times — who acts as a producer on these movies — and provides an easy excuse to ignore any attempts at storytelling. But if you were paying attention, the first movie was undeniably optimistic. The most obvious example is the mother’s pregnancy even though the film seems to take place at least a year after whatever original calamity occurred. This suggests despite the apocalyptic crisis, the family still wanted to have a child. They weren’t despairing at the world, they wanted to continue living in it with a new family.
The theme of preserving optimism despite tragic circumstances is embodied in a new character named Emmett, played by Cillian Murphy. Emmett is another family man but it’s implied he lost his son and wife during the apocalypse and as a result has a diminished sense of hope for the future and his fellow man. This makes him a counter example to John Krasinski’s character — Lee, the father in the first film. Lee represented a man who maintained his optimism despite ongoing challenges, whereas Emmett seems to have given up because of those challenges. A major plot point for Part II is having Emmett’s nihilism challenged by Regan as a kind of surrogate for her father.
I have a soft spot for characters like Emmett. I personally relate to that character and benefit from examinations of that mindset. And I also think the battle between despairing in nihilism and choosing to live is one of the most prescient stories of our era. It’s a struggle that is timeless, but I think it is especially devastating these days because we can wrap it up in a type of rationality. Another movie that focused on this idea was First Reformed, which I highly recommend if you’re into this kind of thing.
Murphy is so great at capturing characters like Emmett and I thought his character was immediately engaging. I was always ready for the movie settle on Emmett’s character to spend more time with him and examine his psyche. Especially because the world of A Quiet Place is so blatantly miserable. The restriction of speech or sound creates such an oppressive atmosphere that feels uniquely unbearable. It makes it easy to have a connection with characters frustrated by their circumstance. Though there is also an opportunity to say something meaningful about deaf culture and the benefits of a less noisy chaotic world.
With that said, I don’t think the movie earned Emmett’s arc and I don’t think they were trying that hard to earn it. The movie is 90 minutes and because of the premise there’s not a lot of dialogue. So there’s little room for the character to grow. Since there’s not a lot of opportunity for that growth, it seems like Emmett makes his case for five minutes then brushes it aside like it’s nothing. I wish they did more with that.
The first film had a secondary theme of the father’s willingness to sacrifice for his kids — the next generation. I was actually impressed with how Part II captures that theme and shifts the focus from the adults to the kids through the course of the movie. The kids played an important role in the first movie, but in Part II Regan is a de facto main character, which is great because she’s easily the most interesting character from this world. Regan has an interesting combination of strengths and weaknesses for her specific circumstance and some of those strengths are because she is deaf. A typical audience member may view deafness as a disability, but there’s a viewpoint in the deaf community that there’s nothing inherently limiting to being deaf. Watching this movie, it’s kind of impossible to walk away from it viewing Regan as “disabled.” And re-examining your view on her circumstance is in the spirit of the movie’s theme of optimism for life. In the same way a new parent may be terrified their child is deaf but at some point, they don’t see the medical condition — they just see their kid. You can choose to see the world cynically or positively.
Last thing I want to say on this point is I thought the last few shots of this movie were really well done. I didn’t expect the movie to end the way it did. Which isn’t to say it’s a twist ending, it’s just a short montage sequence that speaks to its themes, but I thought it was kind of beautiful. It hit me more than I anticipated, maybe I’m going soft or hey – maybe the movie was good.
Most of the movie’s beats are successful, but I did think the editing around the action was a little too much. As I’ve said, the first film was a stripped down premise. One family at one location, trying to survive an easily-understood monster. Part II has multiple characters in different locations accomplishing different things and the movie chooses to intercut all of these sequences even when they don’t necessarily interact with one another. The nighttime sequence between the mother, the son, Regan, and Emmett I thought was especially chaotic and exhausting. I didn’t lose track of what was happening, but I question if putting all those together was the right creative decision. The final climax does this intercutting again, but it’s more forgivable because one character is directly impacting the other ones.
That point might be a little too inside baseball, but the point is the viewing experience isn’t as engaging as the first movie and I think these complex action sequences are to blame.
A Quite Place Part II is a respectable sequel to one of the genre’s biggest surprises in recent years. It continues the most interesting themes of the first movie, but it does change the identity of the franchise to be more action-centric. The conclusion of this movie suggests there may never be another film in this franchise, but I think we all know that depends on its box office performance rather than if its story deserves revisiting.
I think if you’ve been cooped up for a year and are dying to go to the movie theater, this is an excellent contender for your first film back. The experience of this movie is going to be very different in a dark quiet theater, compared to sitting at home with the lights on and a leaf blower running outside. It’s also an optimistic film during relatively dreary times… which, sounds pretty good right now.