Just over three years ago, A Quiet Place crept into theaters on skittering little crab-alien tiptoes, trapping the screams in audiences' collective throats and taking home an astonishing $340 million at the box office. Then two weeks before the sequel's slated March 2020 release, the world itself went silent, cineplexes among the uncountable lights dimmed and doors shut by COVID.
Unlike some who shrugged and pivoted to streaming or on demand, the studio ultimately chose to hold out for a post-pandemic return. And so A Quiet Place Part II (in theaters May 28) arrives in a much, well, quieter place — putting viewers in the odd position, at least for its opening moments, of envying the people up there on screen. Sure, they may be about to lose everything and everyone they love to a rampaging race of extraterrestrial invertebrates, but just look at them! Strolling freely through their bucolic small town, cheering on the local Little League, thoughtlessly breathing in each other's un-fatal air.
But it is of course a trick — or more accurately an origin story, flashing back to the days before Lee (writer-director John Krasinski) and Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and their young children were forever altered by the blind, scrabbly invaders whose sole purpose seems to be to seek and destroy human life wherever they find it. (Oh, the metaphors.) And it's almost immediately immersive to be here again — this Norman Rockwell painting that is also a cleverly torqued daylight nightmare, designed as a puzzle only its smart, resourceful characters can solve — even if it ultimately feels like three quarters of a very good movie chopped off from a whole.
If you haven't seen the first film, you may want to stop reading now; if you have, you know that Lee is dead, having sacrificed himself for his children. That leaves his grieving widow alone with a newborn — when even the smallest noise summons certain death, is there a more dangerous accessory than a wailing, unpredictable infant? — and her two surviving children, Regan (deaf actress Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Ford v. Ferrari's Noah Jupe). Regan's hearing impairment has given them the shared competitive advantage of sign language, and another piece of hard-earned wisdom: the aliens, whatever goes on in their buggy brain pans, can be crippled by the feedback from her cochlear implant.
There's also an old friend of the family, Emmett (Peaky Blinders star Cillian Murphy), who has suffered his own profound losses and managed to carve out a sort of citadel in an abandoned steel mill; he's not Lee, but maybe he can help. Once again, Krasinski manages to render relatively straightforward tasks — nursing a baby, tuning a radio, walking through a train car — harrowing; dialogue, by necessity, is rarely wasted, and his actors feel far more sympathetically human and real than most meat-puppet horror chum. Maybe that's why it all ends so abruptly, after a meticulous walk-up: When you've put in the work for this kind of world-building, it's not a one-and-done sequel; it's a franchise. Grade: B+
(A Quiet Place Part II is in wide release May 28, then comes to streaming on Paramount+ after 45 days.)