A Quiet Place II

Like all great monster movies, A Quiet Place II is merciless and uncompromising. The movie avoids jump scares and builds genuine tension to an extraordinary degree. Whereas the first movie borrowed thematic elements from the Alien franchise, the sequel’s influence is the original Jurassic Park, minus the awestruck reactions, kid-friendly stuff and comic relief. QP2 is a monster movie that earns the right to takes itself seriously through taut direction and excellent acting. Highly recommended.

Ash: You still don't understand what you're dealing with, do you? The perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.

Lambert: You admire it.

Ash: I admire its purity. A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.

Alien (1979)

Just like Ash in Alien, I admire the purity of a movie like A Quiet Place II (or QP2).  Maybe focus is a better word.  It’s lean, mean and uncompromising.  Just like its predecessor, it has no qualms about putting women and children in harm’s way.  The sequel spares little time for grieving, and the desperate fate of humanity is only acknowledged tangentially.  Roughly fifteen months into the onslaught of the creatures who have wreaked havoc on the planet, the survivors are mostly focused on surviving.

Whereas the original movie kept things small scale, primarily focusing on the Abbott family and their farm in upstate New York, the sequel expands the scope of its world but retains its ability to induce fear wherever the characters go.  That’s the benefit of having monsters who are both incredibly fast and almost indestructible: one unfortunate noise and you can wind up dead in minutes, if not seconds.

QP1 started three months after the invasion.  John Krasinski’s direction of the opening sequence told us everything we needed to know primarily with images and almost no dialog.  The world as we know it is essentially post-apocalyptic.  Lee Abbott (John Krasinski) and his family carefully gather supplies in town, cautiously avoiding making a sound in the process.  They don’t speak, they don’t wear shoes.  And they avoid noisy toys whenever possible.  Unfortunately, daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) can’t resist giving her younger brother a toy, and he’s slaughtered within seconds of turning it on.

QP2 also features a gripping opening sequence, this time taking us back to Day 1.  Lee and his family are at a little league game when the invasion (or attack) begins.  (This is a clever way for Krasinski to make an appearance in his sequel, even though he died in the first movie.)  In an homage to science-fiction alien invasion films of the past, something streams through the atmosphere and lands off screen.  Everyone seems to feel that something bad is amiss, and begin to leave.  Lee asks friend Emmett (Cillian Murphy) if anything is happening on “the base”.  Emmett says no, and within minutes, the town is overrun by the monsters we saw in QP1.

Nothing is more unsettling than witnessing your average American city going completely haywire: cars screeching, people running and screaming, our heroes trying desperately to just get out of wherever they are.  Bird Box achieved a similar effect when people looked at the invaders and started killing themselves.  The breakdown of the societal fabric is scary, no matter what’s behind it.  

In QP2’s opening act, there are still lots of people around, but not for long.  Whereas QP1 reminded me of Aliens, QP2 felt directly inspired by Jurassic Park (the original, not its inferior sequels).  The way the monsters in QP2 stalk the townspeople and communicate with clicks and clacks, I couldn’t help but think of Velociraptors.  These monsters are much more dangerous than mere dinosaurs, however.  The local sheriff tries valiantly to kill one of the monsters with a simple shotgun, but to no avail.  The monsters are practically indestructible, and decimate the town’s residents within minutes.

After Day 1, the movie returns to the end of the previous movie.  Evelyn (Emily Blunt), Regan, eldest son Marcus (Noah Jupe) and baby have successfully fought off a bunch of monsters.  Regan and Evelyn realized that her hearing piece coupled with a microphone produces feedback, stopping the monsters in their tracks.  While the monsters are in a tizzy, the insides of their heads are exposed, making them vulnerable to shotgun fire.  Thankfully, Evelyn is a crack shot.  With their home secure for the moment, Evelyn decides that the family must head out.  Their home is compromised, and with Lee gone, there will be safety in numbers.

Regan confirms that there are people nearby by lighting a fire on top of a sight post.  Other fires become visible in the distance, and Regan marks down on her map where they should go next.  I don’t know what it is about fires that light up in response to a call for help, but it gets me every time.  The Lord of the Rings had a similar (albeit much larger scale) scene in it, and both packed an emotional punch.  (For me at least.)

The family walk past the end of the furthest trail of sand that Lee created to an abandoned steel mill.  Marcus walks into an animal trap and his leg is severely wounded.  Emmett takes them into the mill and inside a smelter he’s fashioned into a human vault.  When he closes the door, the monsters can’t hear inside.  The only catch is, air runs out of the vault after maybe ten minutes.  The monsters aren’t smart enough to wait around and leave before then.  Emmett insists that Evelyn and her family can’t stay with him.  There isn’t enough food for them all, and he just wants them to leave.  Unlike Lee, Emmett wasn’t able to move on from the death of his son by the monsters, and then his wife from an illness.  When asked why he never responded to the tower fires Lee had set, he doesn’t have a good answer.  My guess it was survivor’s guilt.

When Regan and Marcus hear a transmission from a radio station, Regan pleads with her mom and Emmett to be taken there.  The radio station can transmit her feedback throughout the area, and could turn the tide against the monsters.  Evelyn insists that it’s too dangerous to head out in the open.  Emmett says that the radio station has been playing the same song forever, that there is nothing left, and that there are no people left worth saving.  Undeterred, Regan figures out where the radio station is, and heads out on her own.  Like most (all?) horror movies, the group proceeds to split up, with Emmett looking for Regan, Evelyn heading back to town to get supplies, and Marcus (and his injured leg) remaining at the factory to watch the baby.

As in QP1, an oxygen mask is used to help muffle the baby’s cries.  Evelyn knows where to find some more, and heads back to town.  Along the way, she stops at the site where Beau (the youngest son) died.  QP2 let’s its characters grieve for a bit, then it’s back to the matter at hand.

Regan stops at a train car to get a first aid kit.  Because she’s deaf, she doesn’t realize that the noises she made brought undo attention to herself.  Fortunately, Emmett is able to rescue her.  Regan is able to convince Emmett to take her to the island with the radio station.  On their way there, they have to survive a group of deviant men who look like they’ve taken Cormac McCarthy’s The Road as their guide to living.  As Regan and Emmett make their way to the island by boat, they discover another monster weakness: they can’t swim.

QP2 does so many things right, the few wrong decisions it made were a bit surprising.  Case in point: Marcus.  While Regan and Emmett are heading to the island with the radio station and Evelyn is in town getting supplies, Marcus decides to take a look around.  He finds the remains of Emmett’s wife and in his fright, makes enough noise to attract the monsters. All of the characters have walked around (and over) countless skeletons throughout the movie, so why is Marcus suddenly afraid of one more?  The sole purpose of his actions is to bring peril upon himself and the baby, and provide the impetus for Evelyn to hurry back to save them.  This results in two sets of characters trying to survive a monster attack in the end, and the plot machintions work, but if Krasinski held true to his underlying theme of “you die if you make a mistake”, he should have killed off Marcus.  I’m guessing he didn’t have the heart to kill off another one of the Abbott children.  However, Marcus’ only purpose in this movie was to get caught in an animal trap, and put his sibling in danger, so why not send him packing?

Once on the island, Regan and Emmett find a large group of people having fun around a campfire.  After everything Emmett has gone through, the scene leaves him gobsmacked.  A man (not named, played by Djimon Hounsou) tells them that on Day 1, there were plenty of boats to take more people to the island, but people started shouting, and, well, only a few boats made it.  He agrees to help Regan transmit her sonic feedback via the radio signal.  Unfortunately, while the monsters can’t swim, they certainly can go for a boat ride.  The island’s idyllic setting is shattered when one monster begins doing its thing.  The man is able to distract the monster away from the rest of the people, only to be killed once they reach the radio station.

As I mentioned above, QP2 avoids the sentimentality, false intrigue and nutty humor that  softened the edge of its primary inspiration, Jurassic Park.  Don’t get me wrong, but I really like JP. Whenever I catch it on TV, I watch it for a while, because it has so many classic scenes.  But JP gets bogged down with the silly antics of several of its characters, namely Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcom and Wayne Knight’s Nedry.  And while it puts the children in danger several times, neither of them actually dies.  JP succeeds in spite of Spielburg making the carnage family friendly.

As was evident in QP1, Krasinski is not interested in any of the kinder, gentler elements that infused JPQP1 set us up for a harsh dose of reality when the youngest son died in the first real and Lee Abbot sacrificed himself to save his kids.  If the movie’s director and screenwriter kills off his own character, you know he’s serious about having real consequences for his character’s actions.  With that in mind, QP2 is what you would get if you trimmed all of the extraneous stuff from JP and were left with people trying to avoid being killed and eaten by dinosaurs.  The characters in QP1 and QP2 don’t share a joke, or make ironic quips, or marvel at the creatures before them.  They’re trying to not make a sound so they can stay alive.

QP1 proved how merciless Krasinski was with his characters in the way he treated Evelyn.  Not only does he have her step on a nail while she’s having contractions, she almost gets killed by a monster just before giving birth.  In QP2, Marcus and the baby nearly suffocate in the smelter before Evelyn arrives.  The next time Evelyn heads into town for supplies, she should pick up some birth control.

As Krasinski expands his Quiet Place world, I found myself asking a lot of questions.  Not bad questions because of plot holes or lapses in logic, but good questions, where I want to know more about what’s going on.  Were the monsters sent to Earth on purpose?  If so, what purpose was that?  Since they don’t eat what they kill, what do they eat?  Were the monsters created to serve as a biological weapon, in a way similar to what was revealed in Prometheus?  (They are impervious to bullets and fire.  Nature doesn’t make animals that are indestructible.)  Were the monsters sent to Earth intentionally, or was it a mistake?  (With Earth essentially subdued, nobody has come to claim it after fifteen months.)  I have my suspicions, and I’m hoping we’ll learn more about the monsters, their origin and purpose in future installments.

With Krasinski’s Lee character being reduced to appearing in the first reel, and Evelyn on the road for supplies, Millicent Simmonds’s Regan and Cillian Murphy’s Emmett are the lead performances in the movie.  Murphy’s haunted, deep-set blue eyes are symbolic of the PTSD he experiences.  He’s such an economical actor, adding so much emotion behind every word or sentence he utters.  I appreciated how Murphy was able to portray Emmett’s internal struggle to move beyond his guilt and depression and risking his life to save others.

Simmond’s Regan is the protagonist of the story, carrying the torch in memory of her father.  Unlike her father, she is much less risk averse and reckless.  Her character’s altruism and steadfast determination contrasts well with Emmett’s reticence.  I liked how Emmett becomes a surrogate father figure to Regan and helps her achieve her goal, instead taking control of the situation and forcing her to return to her family.  QP2 is an excellent example of how male figures can be supportive without dominating.  
As I mentioned above, I’m genuinely curious about this world that Krasinski is creating.  Like the best filmmakers, he answers a few questions, but leaves the audience wanting more.  Hopefully, I won’t have to wait too long for QP3.

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