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The Front Row
“A Quiet Place Part II,” Reviewed: John Krasinski’s Limited View of Horror
He doesn’t see the world that he’s creating, only the story that he’s telling.
By Richard Brody
May 26, 2021
The characters are even less well defined than they were in the first installment, and their need to remain silent is hardly responsible.​Photograph by Jonny Cournoyer
The chance to make a sequel to one’s own film is a gift of freedom for a director, a chance to expand ideas, reveal latent motives, and push major themes in new directions. That freedom doesn’t seem to have tempted John Krasinski in his direction of “A Quiet Place Part II,” the second installment in what’s shaping up to be a franchise. Instead, with a self-imposed sense of duty and some intermittent cleverness, he follows the rules that he set down for himself in the original film, from 2018. The cramped results are all the more disheartening, given that Krasinski, who co-wrote the original, is the sole credited screenwriter of the sequel. It’s hard to detect anything more personal about this installment—except perhaps precisely its sense of duty, responsibility, and the fulfillment of expectations. It’s a work of polished and skilled professionalism, for better and worse.
“A Quiet Place Part II” begins with a wryly deceptive touch—an empty town in which a pickup truck comes to a desperate, lurching stop. Out bursts Krasinski, in a rush; his character, Lee Abbott, was killed off in the earlier film, but the opening sequence, labelled “Day 1” in a title card, is a snippet of prequel. The town is quiet because its noisy people are crowding the stands at a Little League baseball game, for which Lee is hurriedly gathering snacks. (The movie was filmed in upstate New York.) When Lee rushes over to the playing field, his family is there—his wife, Evelyn (Emily Blunt); their daughter, Regan (Millicent Simmonds); their toddler son, Beau (Dean Woodward); and their son Marcus (Noah Jupe), who’s in the game but isn’t much of a player. While taking a called third strike, Marcus looks into the sky and sees fire and smoke. Then everyone notices and flees, and, by the time they crowd the town’s main street, the monsters have arrived: scaly, dark, fast-moving, spiderlike yet reptilian giants who are bent on slaughter and rely on sound to track their victims.
Cut ahead to Day 474, the day after the one on which the first film ended. The surviving members of the Abbott family—Evelyn, Regan, Marcus, and a newborn infant—are struggling to evade an infestation of monsters in their vicinity. Evelyn heads to their barn, which is flooded and on fire, and collects some needed supplies—notably, an oxygen tank, so that the baby can be kept in a basket, any cries smothered, while breathing with a mask. But, with Lee dead, the family’s leader is now Regan, who displays precocious practical skills. She not only stands on the roof and notes a fire in the distance—the mark of another survivor—but also uses a compass and a map to figure out how to get there. Regan is deaf (as is, in real life, Simmonds) and uses cochlear implants, which play a major role in the plot—and in her inventive inspiration. Having discovered, in the first film, that feedback screeching from the implants stops the creatures in their tracks (and retracts their head armor, rendering them vulnerable to a gunshot or an axe blow), she now prepares for the journey, in the sequel, by gathering a speaker and a mike to use as weapons.
But, before the family goes, the sequel revisits the money shot of “A Quiet Place,” the moment in the earlier film that sealed the deal with viewers, condensing the entire movie’s story and tone into a single image. It’s a scene in which Evelyn, walking barefoot—in order to tread quietly—accidentally steps on a nail, grievously puncturing her sole while she forces herself not to scream. The nail in the foot is the film’s iconic moment of limbic horror. Like the eye-slice in Luis Buñuel’s “An Andalusian Dog,” it leaps from the fabric of “A Quiet Place” and sparks a more intense and affecting horror than does the monsters’ menace. In the sequel, that moment is referenced in a bandage wrapping Evelyn’s foot and spotlighted—essentially in visual quotation marks—in another scene on the same staircase, early on Day 474. Meanwhile, Krasinski builds another early scene around a new object of mutilation. To his credit, he doesn’t deploy it for mere gore. However, in attempting the move a second time around, he delivers an effective fright without the same primal sense of shock.
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The family’s risky barefoot journey takes them to an abandoned steel mill that’s now inhabited by a former neighbor named Emmett (Cillian Murphy), whose ferociously contrived means of survival—including the dangerous use of an airtight former blast furnace as his ultimate inner sanctum—can scarcely accommodate the Abbotts. There, again, Regan’s intuition and knowledge come to the fore. She picks up on the signal of another distant survivor and plans to guide the family to its source. When the urgent need for supplies forces the Abbotts to separate, Krasinski relies on the primordial device of crosscutting between the various fields of action to ratchet up suspense. Yet, throughout, the characters remain ciphers, reduced to their wiles and their battles; the result is a pared-down thriller of little significance.
The characters of “A Quiet Place Part II” are even less well defined than they were in the first installment, and their need to remain silent is hardly responsible. What little dialogue there is reflects no interest in character. A better filmmaker might have imagined the verbal thoughts that fill the characters’ minds, to reveal their inclinations, idiosyncrasies, dreams, and memories—and figured out how to include them in the film, whether on the soundtrack or in text on the screen. Krasinski’s failure to do so, or his mere disinclination, is more than a directorial omission; it’s indicative of a fundamental lack of invention, a lack of curiosity regarding both his own characters and the power of the cinema itself.
It’s also a sign of a peculiar directorial psychology, a neurosis of realism that fussily, over-fastidiously, inflexibly pursues narrative neatness. That neatness is the sequel’s major achievement and its main source of pleasure. Krasinski cannily calls attention to details that underscore the film’s premise and echo each other throughout, such as a casual query about A.S.L. that later becomes a major plot point. The latch on the blast-furnace door, the gauge of an oxygen tank, the drip of a sprinkler head, a song on a radio station, the effort to keep a heavy steel door from banging shut, a pile of shoes abandoned on a train platform, the danger posed by the sound of a life-saving gunshot: all embody an art of fierce attentiveness that relates the fate of the family’s desperate mission to obsession with the small details—and that defines cinematic accomplishment in terms of the same meticulous diligence.
But Krasinski doesn’t see the movie as a whole, in the same way that he didn’t see clearly the implications of the first movie. “A Quiet Place” symbolically turned its horror plot into a paranoid home-invasion drama, with overtones of white racial fears. In “A Quiet Place Part II,” the cast is expanded and diversified, albeit to clumsy effect. In the opening prequel scene, of the town under siege, Lee and Regan join a group taking refuge in a bar. There, as the sound-detecting monsters rampage through town, a woman of color can’t resist the impulse to call her mother—and, then, once she’s properly hushed, her cell phone rings, to catastrophic effect. As Lee and Regan escape the attack that’s caused by the woman’s heedlessness and run toward Lee’s truck, the local police officer, Ronnie (Okieriete Onaodowan), a Black man, sacrifices himself to protect them by throwing himself at one attacking creature. I’ll avoid spoilers and say merely that taking one for Team Abbott is the only role the film manages to find for its Black characters.
The problem isn’t that Krasinski is insensitive so much as that he’s unperceptive. He doesn’t see the world that he’s creating, only the story that he’s telling—or, worse, the script that he’s illustrating. Hollywood is drowning in fantasy. (Perhaps America at large is, too.) If there’s any rationale for making movies about unreal worlds, it’s in the symbolic power of fantasy to map its ideas and its emotions onto the world at large. “A Quiet Place Part II” is filled with striking, clever details; it displays no sense whatsoever of the big picture. That failure is the difference between directing and just making a movie.
Richard Brody began writing for The New Yorker in 1999. He writes about movies in his blog, The Front Row. He is the author of “Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard.”
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