There is a universal issue to sequels to contained horror films. The entire premise of a contained horror film is to be contained. The characters are trapped in a small space, in a unique situation, with a set of rules. You don’t need much thought with a contained horror film. There’s no need to expand lore into a bigger idea or out into the rest of the world. Logic can be muddled with and inconsistencies are less important. The premise is the driving factor.
When you make a sequel to one of these films the world opens up (unless your sequel is contained as well). It’s a tricky thing to do. Suddenly, a point that worked when you were laser-focused on one place becomes a pothole when the story opens up. It’s a tricky transition that few contained horror films can pull off. A Quiet Place Part II does so but that means it’s a drastically different film than the first.
A Quiet Place Part II
Director: John Krasinski
Release Date: May 28, 2021 (Theatrical)
A Quiet Place Part II is truly a direct sequel to the first film. The movie picks up exactly where the last one left off after Evelyn Abbott shotgunned the alien in the face after her daughter, Regan (Millicent Simmons), figured out that the feedback from her hearing aid could harm them. With their home destroyed and Lee (John Krasinski) dead she sets out with Regan and her brother, Marcus (Noah Jupe), and her newborn baby to see if they can find other people.
Eventually, they do, running into Emmett (Cillian Murphy), who knew the family from the before times. The four form a bit of a new family as Regan and Emmett set off to possibly broadcast her feedback signal from a radio station to help others use it and Evelyn and Marcus stay back after Marcus’s leg is caught in a bear trap. Things go a bit poorly but it isn’t just the aliens that are a problem this time around.
The film really wants to do with a lot of subjects all at once and it makes it themes a bit muddled. There’s a hint at mankind being even worse than the mindless, killing aliens but it’s never really delivered on. Marcus goes on a character arch from scared child to young man but it doesn’t always feel earned. The film wants to play with loss and ideas of establishing a new family but the story takes place over only a couple of days and it all seems kind of forced. Overall, the tight themes and story of the original film are tossed aside here to deliver a bigger film.
There are also some logic gaps as the world opens up. You can ignore some of these questions in a film that’s tightly focussed but as the world opens up it’s harder. The most obvious is the fact that this one family is the only ones that figured out that microphone feedback was the way to hurt these creatures. The movie also reveals that the aliens can’t swim making it even more unlikely that they’d really be able to destroy all of mankind, even with the element of surprise. When it was just one, remote family that makes sense but in the bigger world, it starts getting a little flimsy.
That isn’t a deal-breaker, though, and really what it means is that this is just a different kind of film. This isn’t the tiny film that the original was, it’s closer to an alien invasion film or a zombie apocalypse movie. That’s a different kind of film and it’s not fair to judge it by the standards of the original movie. What we lose in quiet tension we gain in edge-of-your-seat thrills and those thrills are pretty strong. Where the first film was one long bit of slow-building tension, this is more a collection of thrilling set pieces executed with great skill.
The opening sequence for the film — a flashback showing when the aliens first came to earth — is the perfect example of this. It is, without a doubt, an absolutely fantastic sequence. Krasinski uses sound, incredible camera work, and some scares to deliver a sequence that pushes you straight into the action. The sound design is especially fantastic, as we only hear what the character we’re focussing on hears, so as Regan is the focus the sound goes dead, only to roar back in as we switch to someone else. It’s intense and fantastic and… more of an action film.
The move does lose itself a bit in the middle thanks to all of this. Since its tension is from scene to scene and not overall there’s a lull in the middle of the film as characters get where they need to be going. Krasinski, who wrote the screenplay on his own this time, seems to get a bit lost. The audience knows where the plot is going and the film needs to get there but doesn’t move there fast enough. If it did it could execute a lot of its themes better. When it does, though, the execution is simply fantastic.
A Quiet Place Part II isn’t the classic that the original was. Its expansion out into a bigger, wider story and world simply makes that impossible. Still, Krasinski shows an incredible knack for tense action on top of horror. This is the natural progression of a film that was never meant to have a sequel and as such, it succeeds as something different.