Combustible Celluloid
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With: Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, John Krasinski, Djimon Hounsou, Okieriete Onaodowan, Scoot McNairy, Zachary Golinger, Blake DeLong, Gary Sundown
Written by: John Krasinski, based on characters created by Scott Beck & Bryan Woods
Directed by: John Krasinski
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for terror, violence and bloody/disturbing images
Running Time: 97
Date: 05/28/2021

A Quiet Place Part II (2021)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Hush Life

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A press screening for A Quiet Place Part II that was booked for Monday, March 16, 2020, was one of the first to be canceled as the country began to shut down at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The movie that we should have seen back then would have been much different from the movie we saw this week, as A Quiet Place Part II prepares to open in theaters, Friday, May 28, 2021.

As far as we know, this sequel to John Krasinski's terrific 2018 smash hit original hasn't changed in those 14 months, but the way it will be seen 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 by Krasinski, 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 are even more poignant, 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.

Merely seeing people gathering for a ball game at all is newly powerful. For the Abbott family, as it was for us, it's a simple pleasure taken for granted.

Thankfully, this sequence doesn't bother to explain, any more than the first movie did, 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 very friendly. Before they can even get inside, Marcus's 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 that 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's leg, and oxygen tanks are required for the baby's homemade "silent" box (to muffle its inevitable crying and prevent it 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 her 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 A 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's 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.

It's a solid sequel, its technical achievements somewhat outweighing its other parts. Indeed, Krasinski has indicated that he never planned for, and was coaxed into, doing a sequel.

A last-second rescue, a screenwriter's foreshadowing trick, and other moments are a little too familiar, and it's probably best not to ask too many questions about an 11th hour life-saving solution.

Yet it's impossible not to be moved by those moments that echo our pandemic. Some moments just feel instantly recognizable, i.e. a character wearing a mask, and when a character grabs a Johnson & Johnson first aid kit, who in the audience won't be thinking, "vaccine"?

But perhaps the most potent ones include a scene of people gathering outdoors and unafraid to make noise, or Marcus's face when he hears music for the first time in over a year.

We in the real world have not been deprived of music, per se, but Marcus's expression might be the same thing that appears on our faces when we eventually, finally get to, say, eat at a restaurant or go to a ball game — or see a movie.

Krasinski and Blunt's inspiring Some Good News might have been the videos to watch at home during the pandemic, but their A Quiet Place Part II will be the essential thing to see back in theaters.

Paramount's 4K and Blu-ray release includes a superb visual and especially audio transfer. Bonuses include five short featurettes, each less than 10 minutes long; the first one is Krasinski's "Director's Diary." A digital copy is also included. Recommended.

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