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The first A Quiet Place was a phenomenon for a reason — its immaculate sound design and unique premise (a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by hearing-sensitive monsters) made for a horror film more akin to a roller coaster: immersive, transporting, and almost completely experiential. But strip A Quiet Place of its novelty, and what do you have? That’s the question that A Quiet Place Part II wrestles with.
John Krasinski returns to direct and write A Quiet Place Part II, which struggles to recapture the lightning that turned the 2018 original into a hit. Because it follows the continuing adventures of the Abbott family, it can’t just recycle the premise of the first film as many a horror sequel has done. So instead, it fills up the runtime with plot — and a fairly run-of-the-mill post-apocalyptic thriller plot, at that.
The film opens with a flashback to “Day 1” of the invasion, when a baseball game that the Abbott family is attending to support anxious son Marcus (Noah Jupe) is suddenly interrupted by a meteor cutting through the sky. While the other families gawp at the fire lighting up their familiar small town skyline, Lee (Krasinski, in full hero mode in his brief scenes) immediately thinks something is amiss. He hurries Regan (Millicent Simmonds) to his beat-up truck while Evelyn (Emily Blunt) takes their other two children home in her car. The pair of them arrive downtown just as all hell breaks loose — monsters attacking people in the streets, crashing into cars, mauling dozens of hiding townspeople thanks to an errant cell phone ring. Through it all, the Abbott family just evade death (Krasinski’s Lee Abbott weaving and leaping through the fray as if he were in an episode of Jack Ryan) but the focus is on the children: Simmonds and Jupe playing well to the trembling fear of kids in a monster movie, but with steely glints in their eyes befitting protagonists of an adventure movie.
Cut to 473 days later, the three surviving Abbotts, with newborn baby in hand, are leaving the burning remains of their home. While attempting to find shelter at an abandoned factory, Marcus gets injured and accidentally calls the attention of the monsters but also earns the sympathy of Emmett (Cillian Murphy, extremely at home in the post-apocalyptic thriller, having worn this coat before in 28 Days Later), an old friend of the the Abbotts who had been living alone in the factory. At first suspicious of the Abbotts, he quickly leads them through his redneck Rube Goldberg machine designed to fend off the monsters and hides them away in his underground bunker.
Emmett is exactly the kind of character you’d expect to find in this apocalyptic wasteland. A grieving widower and father whose only comfort is his fast-depleting bottle of alcohol — which he immediately gives up to help Marcus — Emmett’s role is to have his walls worn down by Regan, the spunky heroine of this story who believes she has a solution to save the world. There’s a strange thread throughout this movie wherein Krasi“nski’s Lee is frequently alluded to as some kind of messianic hero — Regan and Evelyn evoking his name whenever Emmett balks at helping them — and I couldn’t tell if this was pure narcissism on Krasinski’s part or an actual necessary story device.
Regardless, Murphy and Simmonds are a fantastic pairing. Murphy brings a likability and tenderness to a fairly well-worn archetype, while Simmonds is allowed to shine as the clear-eyed heroine of the piece. Having discovered the effects of her hearing device’s sound waves on the monsters, she sets out to broadcast the sound to the entire world — to the irritation of Emmett and the despair of Evelyn. Emmett is unwillingly dragged along on her quest, and the two of them set off on the latest iteration of “reluctant father figure and spunky young girl” that we’ve seen pop up in almost every post-apocalyptic story as of late. But Murphy and Simmonds make it work, and keep us engaged even as the film starts to sag underneath its contrived plot twists and even more plot holes. Sadly, outside of Murphy and Simmonds, the rest of the characters are given squat. Aside from a few great moments, Blunt mostly gets sidelined, while Jupe falls to the horror pitfall of becoming the character made deliberately dumber to engineer conflict and build up to a big climax. Meanwhile, Djimon Hounsou is a welcome sight a pretty thankless role.
That being said, Krasinski is a confident and and oftentimes inspired director. Where the script is lacking, his steady direction and sure hand make up for it. Krasinski is clearly hankering to direct a Jurassic Park or to adapt The Last of Us; the influences are apparent throughout the movie, which sheds the experiential audio-driven aspect of the first film in favor of a straightforward action thriller, though it can still pull off a few good jump scares. What Krasinski has done is direct a solid post-apocalyptic adventure with some horror flair, which is totally fine, but it’s a clear step down from the first film.
It’s a dichotomy that makes up most of the movie — is it a horror or a post-apocalyptic adventure? Krasinski frequently rejected the “horror” label for the first A Quiet Place, presumably to make the film more accessible to all audiences, but it might be that he doesn’t have the interest in making a straightforward horror film. In the process, A Quiet Place II falls somewhere in between, with the effective thrills and jump scares of a horror film, but with an overly familiar post-apocalyptic plot that we’ve seen many times before.
/Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10
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