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A father hurries to buy oranges and water in the general store/pharmacy of a small town, supplies for his son’s baseball team. He returns to the bleachers to watch the game with his wife, his two other children, and fellow townspeople. The setting is a romanticized village....romantic that is, until it’s invaded by a swarm of aliens swooping down from the skies, destroying buildings and vehicles and people. From that pre-alien (even pre-Covid) communal idyll, the story leaps forward more than a year as the mother and her three children, one an infant who was not yet born in that first scene, abandon their farmhouse—barefoot and silent—in search of other human life.
This post-apocalyptic world
is marked by missing people
and missing sounds.
[Right, Mother (Emily Blunt)
with infant, Regan (Millicent
(Noah Jupe), on the run]
This post-apocalyptic world is marked by missing people and missing sounds. The blind aliens use their super-sensitive hearing to identify prey, and so the family must travel and communicate without oral language. The mother and the two older children are aided by American Sign Language, used in the family because the older daughter is deaf. A family friend is persuaded to help, but he’s not a true substitute for Dad, who is clearly gone. Instead, all four—mother, friend, daughter, and son—take up aspects of the roles Dad fulfilled, roles essential to their staying alive.
A scream—even a tipped over pill bottle—can be a death sentence.
A critical survival skill is the emotional control to remain silent. A scream—even a tipped over pill bottle—can be a death sentence. Just as the family members jump and sometimes emit sounds when surprised by the unexpected, so the audience cries out when surprised by sounds or movements. The family members feel guilt when they can’t control themselves, and the film has a participatory quality, because filmgoers, too, cannot contain their fear.
“A Quiet Place Part II” (and the first of the series as well) excels in the use of sound, and even more so in the use of silence. Almost the only words and music are diegetic (within the context of the story and heard by the characters, akin to the 2020 Oscar-winning “Best Sound” of “The Sound of Metal”). Since the characters must be mostly silent, the film is mostly silent. When sound punctuates that silence, it carries the power of surprise, and horror.
Older, deaf young teenage
Regan is the strongest
character in the film.
The story thrives as well because of its two young actors: Millicent Simmonds (deaf and a native ASL “speaker”) as Regan and Noah Jupe (“Honey Boy,” 2019 and “Wonder,” 2017) as Marcus. In a reversal of gender roles, the older, deaf young teenage Regan is the stronger of the two, and in fact the strongest character in the film, once Dad (director and writer John Krasinski, from TV’s “The Office” and “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan”) is dispatched. Marcus is a young Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939); he must find his courage.
It’s a strength of the film that the characters all have weight. The mother (a worthy, beleaguered Emily Blunt) is resourceful, if not as fully a leader as Regan. Dad-substitute Emmett (noted Irish actor Cillian Murphy, who appeared in several Christopher Nolan films) moves from existential grief and angst to take on some responsibility for the clan—not quite Dad, but good enough. Marcus finds both courage and a role as a nurturer of the infant.
Emmett (Cillian Murphy)
is not quite Dad.
In one of the numerous citations to locations and methods of other films, the time-honored technique of cross-cutting (“Birth of a Nation,” 1915) is amped to not two, but three cross-cut narratives, with the aliens coming after our heroes in different locations at the same time. The radio station, and use of radio equipment, are reminiscent of “War of the Worlds” (1938 radio drama), “American Graffiti” (1973) and last year’s “The Vast of Night.” There’s even a reference to the shower scene in “Psycho” (1960).
The setting evokes a mixed nostalgia, partly for the small town life that opened the film, partly for a pre-globalization industrial America.
The setting for Part II is post-industrial America: abandoned railroad lines and factories, locations common to Western New York, where it was filmed; even grain elevators (iconic to the city of Buffalo) play a role. Here the detritus of once-thriving industry (and the radio) evokes a mixed nostalgia, partly for the small town life that opens the film, partly for a pre-globalization industrial America (even if factories were not seen at the time as ideal workplaces). Ostensibly about the future, this sci-fi/horror film narrative is in fact more often nostalgic for an idealized past.
There are flaws in “A Quiet Place Part II,” including the triple cross-cutting when taken to excess, a contrived scene of danger and escape from a grain elevator, a dock scene with caricatured, menacing low-lifes (in this case, human ones), and a few “surprises” that seem silly or unearned. These deficits are outweighed by the charms: the strength of the characters, its clever rejoinder to the alien threat, and the exceptional use of sound (the film should be seen on the big screen for that reason alone). As one of the first to open widely in theaters post-Covid, although with continuing Covid audience-size limitations, this sequel fared well, grossing more than $47 million over its first weekend, almost as much as its pre-Covid predecessor. Some of that popularity is attributable to the film’s reserve, its notable withholding of blood and gore. “A Quiet Place Part II” is family fare—one might say “horror-lite.”
Date: 2020 (premiered March 2020, but release held to May 2021)
Director: John Krasinski
Starring: Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cillian Murphy, John Krasinski
Languages: English, American Sign Language (subtitled in English)
Runtime: 97 minutes