A Quiet Place Part II is cynical and empty

John Krasinski returns to the well of his surprise hit with pretty poor results.

A Quiet Place Part II opens with a flashback, transporting us over a year before the first film’s events. The Abbott family are at a baseball game where pastel-coloured homes flank the background, and the sun shines brightly. The whole town assembles to watch preteens play America’s favourite game. Everything is unusually clean and tinted with rose-coloured nostalgia. The film seems to say this wholesome Americana was what was lost when the shit hit the fan. 

In the immediate aftermath of the first A Quiet Place, the remaining members of the Abbott family file out of their burning farmhouse. They head into the woods in search of refuge. But, when they arrive, things go from bad to worse; Emmett, a dusty Cillian Murphy, a lonely survivor and former family friend, doesn’t want any guests. One of the Abbott children is injured, and another runs after a hunch, escaping early in the morning, searching for a distant radio signal. A tearful Evelyn (Emily Blunt) implores Emmett to go searching for her child. 

Technically, much of the prowess demonstrated in the first A Quiet Place film is at work here. The film has excellent sound design, compelling performances and a solid sense of space. The first film, centred on one family’s survival against a new dystopian reality, was an unexpected hit. This second film expands that vision as the microcosm turns outward. We get a greater sense of how far civilization has fallen in just over a year. 

The story primarily unfolds as a series of unfortunate coincidences and mishaps, carefully set up for the audience. Nothing feels accidental or spontaneous, and every little detail exists solely to set up a later act plot point. Rather than have a single bomb clicking under a table, many are ready to be strategically unleashed at just the “right” moment. There’s little room for personality or ideas, and the film instead feels like a haunted park ride. In many ways, A Quiet Place Part II is little more than a formidable student genre exercise bolstered by tens of millions of dollars.

In other words, the film lacks soul. It does little to build on the first film, which was at least an accomplished exercise in suspense that attempted to present a new and original premise. It was a film that should have been standalone, and the very impulse to expand that universe only feels like a quick cash grab, a cynical alchemy that transforms all original art into content. Even though A Quiet Place was hardly revolutionary, it was at least vaguely different in the sea of uninspired adaptations suffocating Hollywood. The sequel undermines any of its shallow goodwill, especially as the sequel’s final moments easily set up a new franchise. 

When we’re introduced to Emmett, living in an abandoned trainyard, he’s gone through hell. He’s lost his family, and he’s afraid of losing anything else. It doesn’t take him long to insinuate that many people have turned bad after the apocalypse, and perhaps humankind isn’t worth saving. This set-up leads to a brief watered-down evil hillbilly sequence that serves as little more than a convenient narrative set-up for the final act. The last group of new characters we encounter are less grimy and more open, but they’re never presented as anything more than convenient pawns. They’ve been softened by privilege, and it’s not clear the film bears them any particular goodwill either.

If the film is about anything, it is about the triumph of the individual over adversity. From its earliest moments in the Republican wet dream of small-town American life to the rousing individualism of the final act, A Quiet Place Part II celebrates the brave individuals willing to stand up for what they believe in. The society at large, it seems, is not worth saving; collective action is always foregrounded against the private heroism of single people, who are blessed with exceptional values and intelligence. Key members of the Abbott family are “special,” and everyone else exists in the background.

A Quiet Place Part II channels a deep nostalgia for the way things were, a sentiment that does resonate in the age of COVID-19. Yet, there’s something deeply cynical in its approach. It’s a film that does little more than hit “save the cat” style plot points without any concrete ideas. In many ways, the film feels like a product of Reagan-era politics, both in its yearning for the past and its celebration of the individual. Yet, even the film’s politics appear accidental, a manifestation of following a carefully calibrated formula intended to win over the hearts and minds of the public with little consideration for art or ideas. ■

A Quiet Place Part II opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, May 28. Watch the trailer here:

A Quiet Place Part II starring Emily Blunt and Cillian Murphy, directed by John Krasinski

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