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A Quiet Place Part II Review: Enjoy The Silence

Spoilers for "A Quiet Place Part II" follow.

Putting the old axiom that too much of a good thing is never enough to the test, "A Quiet Place Part II" feels in many ways like the longest alternate ending in movie history. This isn't necessarily a bad thing — sequels that pick up immediately after the first film left off (a la "Halloween II") are on much firmer ground than the "here we go again" sequels (looking at you, "Die Hard" 2-5) — but if you're hoping for a bold, new direction that takes this anxiety-inducing franchise to a new level, you'll likely be disappointed.

"Part II" begins with a flashback sequence that reminds us how distinctive the first movie felt, and how much we're about to miss John Krasinski. It depicts "Day 1" of the extraterrestrial invasion that brings hypersensitive, blind, murderous monsters to Earth. It feels strange to see the Abbot family — dad Lee (Krasinski), wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt), their deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and son Marcus (Noah Jupe) — not only enjoying themselves, but speaking freely. Attending a Little League game in their Rockwellian upstate New York neighborhood, the scene retcons in a new character named Emmett (played by Cillian Murphy), and then all hell breaks loose.

The Abbott family aren't the only ones in for a rude awakening, as the flashback ends and we're transported to a far more dire 473 days later. The death of Krasinski's charming, resourceful Lee has left a gaping hole in the family's mission to keep themselves alive, and both Evelyn and Regan are attempting to pick up the slack. Now burdened by a baby, and in desperate search of a human community that can help, they set out on (bare) foot to find signs of life, coming across Emmett in a bunker in an old steel mill.

Murphy's character has stayed alive this long, and he sees the Abbotts as one potential downfall after another — he's not necessarily wrong, either, as the family manages to make a noise, venture off on a dangerous side mission or otherwise endanger themselves every few scenes. He tells them (well, whispers) repeatedly that they need to leave, but Emmett has a fatal flaw: Despite his best efforts, he's a sucker for kids and babies.

What sets the "Quiet Place" films apart from the pack is the franchise's simple conceit: If you make a noise, you're dead. It's something we can all identify with (who hasn't tried sneaking out of a room while somebody's sleeping?), so it's hard to watch the movies and not think about the allergies, squeaky doorknobs, cellphone notifications and talkative friends who would've gotten us sliced in half by a giant monster long ago. "Part II" offers minor relief in Emmett's bunker, which we're told is surrounded by enough concrete to mute soft noises; he also has an old furnace with a safe-like door, perfect for crying babies and the treatment of Marcus' leg after it's caught in a bear trap. It's refreshing, for a minute here and there, to hear actual dialogue.

The sequel is at its best when Evelyn is playing mama bear, staying strong for her family in moments when it seems there is no longer hope. As with the first film, the actors have to rely heavily on their eyes, body language, and panicked movements to convey exposition that would normally be spoken in order to move the plot along. Blunt, in particular, handles it so capably that it seems 100 years ago she could've been a silent film star.

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Which makes it all the more puzzling that the star of the film, far and away, is Simmonds. Once the plot of "Part II" kicks in, the leads are separated into three groups — Marcus and the baby staying home to quietly rehab, Evelyn setting out to secure supplies, and Emmett chasing Millicent as she follows a mysterious radio broadcast — with that third story increasingly dominating as the film progresses.

Simmonds, who is deaf in real life, brings great growth to her character. It's also inspiring to see a film that flips the world on its ear to the point where Regan's proficiency in sign language and possession of a cochlear implant hearing aid might just be the key to saving mankind, making her a sort of superhero. Cillian Murphy, for his part, has been infusing underwritten roles with a unique mix of sensitivity and quirk for over two decades now, and although Hollywood still doesn't seem to know what to do with him, he takes Emmett a lot farther than the character is written. But their story together isn't particularly compelling, and it seems audiences expecting to see Blunt battling monsters will be disappointed by her lack of screentime.

Aside from that increased focus on Regan and the new character Emmett, the movie is content to be a continuation of the first "A Quiet Place." You could watch the two films back-to-back and aside from closing credits you'd never even notice one had ended and another begun. If you liked the first film, you'll like this; if you feel like the concept is getting old, you might want to just be content to fondly remember the original.

The Oscar-nominated sound editing from the first film (seriously, how did it not win?) is once again the true star here, with Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl returning to work their considerable magic. Krasinski once again impresses as director with a Pixies-like aesthetic of loudQUIETloud in orchestrating scenes, encouraging you to savor moments of stillness before startling you with jump cuts that aren't just cheap thrills. The aliens continue to be menacing, but it's interesting that the film sidesteps standard sequel pressures to reveal new powers, different aliens, or give us some kind of bigger, badder, Stay-Puft-like boss monster at the end.

After the initial flashback that opens "Part II," it's hard to not wish Krasinski would just get out of his director's chair and step back in front of the camera. Killing Lee in the first movie seemed like a bold choice at the time, one that caught audiences off guard. But now that "Part II" is here, and with a clear setup at the end for a "Part III," the character's absence feels like a big mistake that even Cillian Murphy's capable efforts can't begin to remedy.

There is some decent, if frequently confounding, world-building achieved through Emmett and Regan's adventure together. They come across some pirate-like feral people whose motivations are ambiguous (whatever they're up to, they're not talking). Later, they find an island of people (including a too-briefly-glimpsed Djimon Hounsou) who provide the duo with some vital information: the creatures cannot swim. These island dwellers seem to be living in a perpetual 4th of July barbecue, where they can talk as loud as they want and not be terribly concerned with what's going on back on the mainland. They also love Bobby Darin, to a point that would make Kevin Spacey jealous.

I told you: Stop belching the alphabet!

As you can probably guess, that doesn't last. As you might not guess, the island dwellers' downfall makes our heroes look like the worst party crashers ever.

It all builds to a crescendo that leaves the other characters fighting seemingly inconsequential battles while Emmett and Regan throw down with some monsters in an abandoned radio station, making the revelation that ... her cochlear implant hearing aid emits a frequency that paralyzes the monsters long enough to take them out. Which we already knew.

At that point, the film stumbles across the finish line with an "Empire Strikes Back"-like ending that finds hope in our heroes' darkest moment — and implies the tide is about to turn.

Who knows? Perhaps "A Quiet Place Part III" will bless us with Jabba the Hutt-like new characters that become instant icons, a speeder-bike-ish chase scene everyone adores, and an Ewok celebration-type conclusion that makes "Part II" feel less like a placeholder and more like a vital second act setting up the denouement.

Taken as a solo watch, "Part II" is simply a shaky-kneed standalone. But perhaps Krasinski knows where all this headed, and is playing a long game worth giving him the benefit of the doubt.

If you loved the first movie and want more of the same, you should definitely see "A Quiet Place Part II," in theaters (safely) if possible. But honestly, if you sat this one out and waited for "Part III" instead, it feels like you wouldn't miss a thing.

When history looks back on this film, it may very well be because of its unique distinction as the first blockbuster release forced to pump the brakes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now the first out of the gate as movie theaters are returning to normal. So it must be noted how the film's subject matter would have played so differently in February 2020 than it does in May 2021.

Not everyone will be in the mood to watch characters in hiding, huddling together in small numbers, afraid that going out in the world could cost them their lives. One key sequence finds a character on the verge of suffocation, making the mask on a viewer's face feel particularly unpleasant. But taken a different way: These movies make you appreciate the underrated pleasures of daily life, such as talking, listening to music, and being able to move about the world unencumbered. The events of 2020 have given us a similar appreciation for things we once took for granted; perhaps, in some strange way, this is the perfect first movie to see when you're ready to go back to the theater.