The press screening for “A Quiet Place Part II” booked for Monday, March 16, 2020 was among the first to be canceled as the country shut down at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The movie we would have seen then is different what we saw this week, as “A Quiet Place Part II” prepares to open in theaters on Friday, May 28, 2021.
While the sequel to John Krasinski’s terrific 2018 smash hit original hasn’t changed in those 14 months, the way we’re seeing it is new.
An opening flashback sequence titled “Day 1” depicts life in a small town just before the monsters arrive. It’s a tricky sequence, skillfully directed, with taut rhythms and precise timing, to build tension using ordinary moments, such as a dog barking or a squelching radio. It’s perhaps comparable to the early moments of Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”
Now, those ordinary moments — such as Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt) casually reaching out and giving a friend a hug, or Lee Abbott (Krasinski) slicing up oranges on the bleachers to pass out to the local Little League team — are particularly poignant.
Merely seeing people gathering for a ball game is powerful. For the Abbott family, as it was for us, it’s a simple pleasure taken for granted.
Thankfully, this sequence doesn’t explain, any more than did the first movie, where the monsters came from, what they are or what they want. All that matters is that they are attracted to sound, they kill humans, and the only way to avoid them is to stay silent.
After the opening titles, we jump to Day 474, not long after the events of the first movie. Evelyn, her daughter, the deaf Regan (Millicent Simmonds), son Marcus (Noah Jupe), and a newborn baby must abandon their carefully-cultivated stronghold.
The resourceful Regan, very much her father’s daughter, sees a signal in the woods and they set out for another hideout, walking past the end of their white sand path for the first time.
Unfortunately, the new place isn’t friendly. Before they can even get inside, Marcus’ leg is snapped in the jaws of a bear trap, resulting in lots of blood and screaming. As in the first film, Regan uses her hearing aid to dispatch the oncoming monsters.
Here they find Emmett (Cillian Murphy) — we met him at the ball game on Day 1 — and he tells them to go away. But when the family discovers a radio station broadcasting a song, Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea,” Regan figures it’s a clue and that there might be a safe place to go after all.
She sets off alone, and Evelyn pleads with Emmett to follow her. Meanwhile, medicine is required for Marcus’ leg, and oxygen tanks are required for the baby’s homemade “silent” box (to muffle inevitable crying and prevent the child from attracting monsters), so Evelyn also makes a dangerous trip into town.
Up to this point, director Krasinski gets by with a couple of well-placed jump-scares, some spine-tingles generated by Marco Beltrami’s sinister score, and the wince-inducing use of characters walking around in bare feet.
But the cross-cutting between Emmett and Regan fending off an attack, Evelyn gently, slowly gathering supplies, and Marcus trying to protect the baby, is a thing of beauty, an example of visual filmmaking and rhyming that works on every level.
A new set piece, a small space sealed off by a hatch, offers more terror; the space is soundproof, but the air inside only lasts a short while.
Another brilliant aspect of both “Quiet Place” movies is the sound design. With a minimum of human chatter, the clang of metal, the splash of water and whistling of wind become far more important, not just in mood, but in communication. It teaches us to listen.
Not to mention the movie’s other standout, young Ms. Simmonds, who is deaf in real life. She was also in Todd Haynes’ great, underrated “Wonderstruck.” The Abbott family learning sign language is undoubtedly the main reason they were able to survive so long.
The soundtrack sometimes lets us in on what Regan’s world sounds — or doesn’t sound — like, but Simmonds also shows that she is not defined by that single trait.
Though Krasinski (who also wrote the movie, based on characters created by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods) has indicated that he was coaxed into doing a sequel, this movie is solid, with technical achievements somewhat outweighing other parts.
A last-second rescue, a screenwriter’s foreshadowing trick, and other moments are too familiar, and it’s probably best not to ask too many questions about an 11th hour lifesaving solution.
Yet it’s impossible not to be moved by the moments that echo our pandemic. Some, like a character wearing a mask, are instantly recognizable. And when a character grabs a Johnson & Johnson first aid kit, who in the audience won’t be thinking “vaccine”?
Perhaps the most potent images are a scene of people gathering outdoors, unafraid to make noise, or Marcus’ face when he hears music for the first time in over a year.
Although we have not been deprived of music, we can relate to Marcus’ expression in that it’s likely to be what’s on our faces as we once again eat at a restaurant, attend a ball game — or see a movie.
While Krasinski and Blunt’s “Some Good News” YouTube videos have been inspiring to watch at home during the pandemic, their “A Quiet Place Part II” will be the essential thing to see back in theaters.
A Quiet Place Part II
Starring: Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe
Written and directed by: John Krasinski
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes