We begin at the real beginning, with a cacophony of sounds.
The clanging of a bell announcing a new customer entering a pharmacy. Said customer’s boots clomping along the floor. A loud WHOOOSHING noise as the customer tears off a plastic bag by the fruit stand. Cut to a Little League baseball game, with the sounds of bat meeting ball, parents and siblings cheering, friendly banter in the stands.
This is Day 1, and these are the final moments of normal, loud, everyday life before the aliens landed and you realized they couldn’t see you but were attracted by any and all sounds, and if they hear you they will surely kill you.
Writer-director John Krasinski opens “A Quiet Place Part II” with a brilliantly executed and absolutely terrifying flashback prologue to the day the monsters arrived, wreaking havoc on the world, killing millions and plunging the isolated survivors into a life of silence, where the snapping of a twig or a cry of pain or a dropped plate could mean a death sentence. It is the perfect scene to immerse us back into the “Quiet Place” universe and it’s the perfect scene to welcome back audiences into theaters — the kind of exhilarating, hold-your-breath, hang-onto-your-popcorn, scary movie sequence that works so much better with a big screen and surround sound and a crowd than as a home viewing experience.
Opening in theaters only on Memorial Day weekend and projected to gross as much as $50 million in the United States and Canada, “A Quiet Place Part II” might not carry quite the same original wallop as the original (how could it?), but this is a meticulously crafted, spine-tingling, fantastically choreographed monster movie that expands the canvas, works as a stand-alone story and leaves us wanting more from this franchise. (And yes, there’s a spinoff in the works, scheduled for a 2022 release.)
The main story picks up in the immediate aftermath of the events from “A Quiet Place,” with Krasinski’s Lee Abbott gone after sacrificing himself to save his family, and mom Evelyn (Emily Blunt), son Marcus (Noah Jupe) and daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), along with Evelyn’s newborn baby, forced to leave their farm in upstate New York and venture into the deadly quiet unknown. What they find is a bleak, post-apocalyptic landscape, strewn with corpses and skeleton remains and abandoned cars, a world where hope seems to have died. With Evelyn carrying the baby in that disturbing but effective coffin-like crib with an oxygen attachment (so the child’s cries can’t be heard), the Abbotts are on the run when Marcus’ leg gets caught in a bear trap, and what do you do when your leg is caught in a bear trap? You scream bloody hell.
Enter Cillian Murphy’s Emmett, and we knew Emmett was going to be a major player in this story because we see him in the stands at the Little League game in the prologue and it’s clear he’s friends with Lee. But that was a different Emmett from a different time. This Emmett has lost his entire family and is living in an abandoned steel factory he has fashioned into a fortress of sorts, and he tells Evelyn and her family he feels for them but there’s not enough supplies, not enough food and water, and they can’t stay for long. As for the outside world, Emmett tells them the people who have managed to stay alive — well, they’re not the kind of people worth saving. (The entire cast in this tight ensemble is wonderful — conveying worlds of emotions, often in scenes with precious little dialogue.)
With top-tier production values including Polly Morgan’s rich and textured cinematography (shot with 35mm film), Jess Gonchor’s intricate and claustrophobic production design and the sound department’s pitch-perfect use of noises ranging from the clinking of bottles to a squawking bird to those hair-raising clickety-click noises coming from the predatory monsters, “A Quiet Place Part II” branches into parallel storylines: one involving Evelyn and Marcus silently teaming up to save the baby and fend off a monster who has invaded Emmett’s place, and the other following Emmett and the hearing-impaired and ever-resourceful Regan as they embark on a perilous mission to reach a boat that can take them to an island that could be a sanctuary from the terror. (The monsters can’t swim.)
As was the case with the first film, there are moments when you can’t help but wonder, “Why don’t they try this?” or, “How come they never thought of that?” but hey, we could say the same thing about every memorable scary thriller series, from “Jaws” to “Jurassic Park” to “Alien,” and the fact “A Quiet Place” is worthy of being in the same ballpark as those classics tells you this franchise in its first two films is off to a very strong start.