I cannot begin this review without first mentioning that the press screening for A Quiet Place Part II was the first time I’ve been in a movie theater since February 2020, when I saw Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) at the now-permanently-shuttered-thanks-to-COVID IMAX theater at Chicago’s Navy Pier. If I had known then that this would be the last film review I’d write for 14+ months — and that it would also be the last time I’d ever be in the IMAX theater I’d been visiting for more than 25 years — I would’ve brought a stiff drink in with me, or at least done something special to mark the occasion.  

A Quiet Place Part II — written and directed by the star of the original film, John Krasinski — was filmed in the Before Times (2019) and premiered at the Lincoln Center in New York on March 8, 2020 … literally days before most of the US shut down. As Hollywood and the rest of the planet kept hoping for the best, the film’s theatrical release was pushed back three times before finally arriving in cineplexes this Memorial Day weekend. I am thrilled to report that it was worth the wait, and that this is most definitely a film that deserves to be seen on the big screen.

It felt surreal to be back in a Dolby surround-sound theater and see the (masked) faces of my fellow critics again. I laughed as I attempted to recline my big padded armchair seat and then remembered how in this particular theater the seats only go back ever so slightly and stop at a fairly weird angle. Oh how the things that used to annoy me seem so insignificant now.

When the brief pre-show clip started — the one that reminds you to silence your phone, enjoy the movie and then shows off the theater’s incredible sound system — I yelped and nearly leapt out of my seat, forgetting how the Dolby seats deliver a deep-bass bone-rattling immersive experience. It wouldn’t be the last time I caught air with a startled seat-jump that afternoon.

The movie kicks off with a flashback to “Day 1,” which is the day alien pods crash all over the earth and start killing everyone in sight. John Krasinki’s character Lee Abbott — husband to Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and dad to Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward) — picks up some supplies at a local convenience store before heading off to Marcus’s baseball game, where it seems a large percentage of the town is gathered. In the stands he chats with fellow dad Emmett (Cillian Murphy), who’s taken the time to learn a little American Sign Language from Regan, who is deaf (as is Simmonds).

But then the pods tear across the sky and it only takes minutes for chaos to ensue. The Abbott family is separated, and everyone in the town starts running for their lives. And then the weirdest thing happened to me. As I watched the destruction unfurl on screen — as I saw panicked parents trying to protect their kids and good Samaritans trying to help older people or neighbors hide or escape — I started sobbing. I’m talking a full-on, body-shaking type of cry. I had actually read about this phenomenon, where people experience PTSD-like symptoms during random everyday moments as we all begin to re-enter society, but I was still shocked that it was happening to me. I know something deep down inside was equating this sudden alien attack with my fear for my family during the earliest and darkest days of the pandemic — with watching helplessly as close friends lost loved ones and 3.5 million people across the world died from COVID as the months passed. During completely silent scenes shot from Regan’s point of view, I realized I was now highly tuned in to any coughs or sniffles in the theater, which would’ve been just ignored background noise in my past 13 years of being a film critic. Yet my highly emotional reaction was also cathartic, and I think it needed to happen. Because then I was able to more fully relax, settle in, and lose myself in the rest of the film, which next flashed forward to Day 474, or right after the end of the original movie.

(I’m about to talk about details of A Quiet Place, so if you never saw the first film and don’t want it ruined, go see it and then come back!) The Abbott family has lost both little Beau and their hero Lee but gained a baby, who Evelyn gave birth to near the end of the first film. With their shelter in shambles, Regan spots a fire burning in the distance and the family precariously makes their way to it in the hopes of finding other survivors. Spoiler alert: It is nearly impossible to be quiet when traveling with a newborn baby.

Needless to say, some truly disturbing things go down on the Abbotts’ journey to find safety. We see much more of the aliens this time around, and they are thoroughly terrifying. And as in most apocalyptic thrillers, we learn that other humans often pose even more of a threat to each other than do aliens, or zombies, or vampires, or supernatural villains (…or a deadly virus).

A big theme in A Quiet Place Part II is kids stepping up to be the kind of leaders that are needed to survive in this new world. Jupe, who kept us guessing during quarantine as the conflicted son of Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman in HBO’s The Undoing, is excellent in conveying everything from physical anguish, to quiet bravery, to his fear of being responsible for keeping his baby sibling alive during a particularly harrowing scene.

But the real star is Simmonds, whose Regan has taken her dad’s place as the leader of the family and believes she knows how to defeat the aliens. You can feel her frustration and desperation after she figures out what needs to be done … but must go against her mom and brother’s wishes in order to do it. The fact that Krasinski and a sound team comprised of Brandon Proctor, Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn chose to have scenes from Regan’s perspective be completely silent throughout the entire film really ratcheted up the tension, since the audience could often see danger behind or around Regan before she became aware of what was happening.

Another prevalent theme in the film is the effect of deep, paralyzing loss and the need to be able to fully grieve. Both the Abbotts and Lee’s friend Emmett, who has found refuge in an old factory, have endured losing a child to the aliens, and no one has had time to process their feelings. Evelyn is just plain exhausted, and Emmett has hardened and closed his heart in order to make it through each day alone. But as the past year in the real world has reinforced, we all need human connection, and we are stronger together.

I had a few quibbles with Krasinski’s direction and story. The first is that I’m not sure how no one on set caught the fact that Evelyn looked like she’d just stepped out of a salon. I mean … who is doing her hair during all this? Her perfectly dyed and styled locks took me out of the film. I was also disturbed to see nearly every non-white character meet a gruesome end. Krasinski needs to be more thoughtful and aware of the kind of message that sends.

And while I did enjoy A Quiet Place II immensely overall and am happy it was the first film I saw back in a theater, it ends too abruptly — to the point that I actually wondered “Huh?” aloud. It’s fine if a director wants to set things up for another installment or clearly establish that a sequel is actually part of a multi-film franchise, but after a semi-cheesy final sequence that bangs the audience over the head with the whole “kids are rising up” theme, the action so suddenly cuts out that I felt robbed, and it diminished the strength of the film as a whole. But you can be sure I am still excited for the next installment. Let’s just hope actual aliens don’t attack us by then, because that seems to be one of the only things left that could go wrong these days. (I hope I didn’t just jinx us.)

Need to catch up before you see the sequel? A Quiet Place is currently at the Box and on Redbox On Demand. And you can also put A Quiet Place Part II on your redbox.com wish list now so you can watch it when it comes to the Box!

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