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Cinematic scope with serialized TV vibes: a few thoughts on A Quiet Place Part II

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L-r, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Evelyn (Emily Blunt) brave the unknown in “A Quiet Place Part II.”

Do you remember A Quiet Place’s abrupt ending? After having just given birth to her new baby and lost her husband within the span of a nightmarish-long night, Emily Blunt’s Evelyn Abbott loads up her shotgun, ready to kick some alien ass, as the screen cuts to black. It’s a rather iconic closing image whose abruptness (mini-spoiler alert) is somewhat evoked at the end of Part II, hinting that the Abbotts’ saga is not over yet.

I’d only seen the first film upon its release in 2018, so the day before the press screening of the new chapter, I had a much needed second viewing because I wanted to follow up on a hunch from back in the day: this almost feels like the pilot of a serialised TV drama with the soul of arthouse storytelling and the ambition of blockbuster production. My hunch was indeed confirmed by the re-watch, yet most importantly it was corroborated the following day when credits rolled on the ever so thrilling Part II – You can read our full review here.

Possible minor spoilers ahead.

When filmmaker and star John Krasinski co-wrote the first film with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck off an original story by the screenwriting duo, A Quiet Place was intended as a one-off (fairly) original genre movie built around a high concept, executed with indie vibes. Like it’s often the case with greedy studios though, success led Paramount to ask for more. The creators were reluctant to continue and indeed Woods and Beck opted out whilst Krasinski eventually stuck around, as he claimed to have found the right direction to keep exploring this family’s journey rather than just churn out a cash-grab sequel that would just rehash the first film with a bigger budget.

There’s no reason to believe this was just some PR ploy to justify the second chapter, especially with such a genuine person like Krasinski involved in the project, and my intention here is not to analyse the predictable business moves of the corporate Hollywood machine. What I’m trying to highlight is how, despite the obvious gap between home viewing and the movie-going experience, the approach to storytelling has become more fluid and the lines that define crafting stories for film vs television seem to be less rigid than in the past. This works both in favour and at the expense of narrative quality as we’ve reached a point where TV shows could use a proper trim on their episode order and should end their run a few seasons early, whilst some films might benefit from having a little more room to breathe.

As I lost myself into the alien invasion-stricken world of the Quiet franchise with a mini binge over the course of two days, I immediately thought about what used to be one of my favourite TV series in recent times: The Walking Dead. After all, both properties revolve around a sci-fi premise about survival in a post-apocalyptic world and how it affects the emotional entanglements of the human condition. As a nerdy completist, I’m still watching the zombie show, even if it hasn’t been must-see TV for a while now, yet I can’t help but feel relieved that it’s finally about to end, after dragging its feet and its tiresome characters around for over a decade.

By the same token but in reverse, whilst I highly appreciate a lean and mean running time in a feature film, I think that especially this second chapter of A Quiet Place could’ve done with an extra half hour. It almost feels like an entire act of the story is missing and I’m not referring to the inescapable, albeit not yet officially confirmed third chapter. I’m talking about a chunk of script that would’ve allowed for a more organic and satisfying character development in this second part. Don’t get me wrong, I was on the edge of my seat from start to finish and I couldn’t have asked for a more entertaining return to the cinema after such a long, forced hiatus. Yet I was left wanting for more and not just as in more story, but as in more substance.

Overall Krasinski’s instincts are spot-on as he takes sole writing responsibility in this continuation of the Abbott family saga. Whilst the first film was a father’s lesson (and the filmmaker’s love letter) to his children about finding the courage to fight for one’s life, part II is a coming-of-age tale where Regan, the deaf daughter of Krasinski’s tragically departed patriarch Lee Abbott, leads the way towards hope, despite her impairment, this time facing the threat of corrupted humanity alongside the already overwhelming one posed by the vicious, noise-sensitive aliens.

Actress Millicent Simmonds (who’s deaf in real life) is simply sensational as Regan and she practically carries the weight of the story on her shoulders, setting off on a journey to find other survivors after decoding an auspicious radio message. Krasinski prepares us for this main narrative thread kicking off things with a flashback to the day of the alien invasion. Even if you might think it’s just a self-indulgent excuse for his defunct character to reappear, this prologue introduces the film’s most notable new entry, Emmett, played by the always brilliant Cillian Murphy, a family friend who’s going to play an important part in Regan’s growth now that her dad is gone.

The way Krasinski reprises the story after that abrupt ending with a narrative device like this kind of flashback and then goes right back to the first film’s final moment was reminiscent of Lost, another staple of suspenseful, character-driven, sci-fi television. And that wasn’t the only moment Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse’s masterful series popped into my mind whilst watching A Quiet Place Part II (more on that later). Whether or not either or both shows were a source of inspiration in Krasinski’s writing process (I’d love to ask him if he’s a fan), considering his TV roots, I bet the Quiet saga has been influenced by that kind of serialised storytelling.

The first film was mostly contained within the premises of the Abbotts’ farm and focused on their nuclear family dynamics, whereas part II sees Evelyn and the kids flee after their house burns down and smoke in the distance signals the prospect of other survivors to join forces with. Just like in Robert Kirkman’s zombie saga, our clan is now in wandering mode, with all the hopes and uncertainties of the case. Baby Abbott inevitably becomes even more of a liability, Marcus (Noah Jupe) confirms he still has a long way to go when it comes to bravery and Regan doesn’t take long to remind us how she has clearly inherited her father’s bold spirit.

Given the circumstances, to crank up the suspense, the most terrifying thing to do for a film like this would be to separate our family members and Krasinski doesn’t waste any time to get there. The Abbotts find long-lost friend Emmett but at the expense of Marcus getting his leg caught in one of the man’s booby traps. This accident alone sets all the events in motion. A bereft Emmett reluctantly offers the Abbotts asylum in his makeshift shelter, but Evelyn needs to go find medicines to treat Marcus’s leg before it’s too late. And since Regan irresponsibly takes off in the early morning to locate the (aforementioned) radio signal, Evelyn begs Emmett to track her down and bring her back safe. This means what you’re guessing: poor wimpy and wounded Marcus is left to care for his baby brother alone… Nothing reassuring could come out of these situations and the filmmaker not only makes the most of all three scenarios, but he indulges a little bit by intercutting action and suspenseful moments across the various characters’ journeys all the way up until the very end.

Whilst getting enthralled in the Abbotts’ fight for survival, one suspenseful beat after another, it dawned on me how I would’ve liked to delve more into these characters’ psyche. For instance, the opening flashback sequence, which takes place at Marcus’s softball game, reveals how the kid’s anxiety isn’t just triggered by an out-of-this-world menace, so it would’ve been interesting to explore it on a deeper level: was there some sort of trauma that made him this apprehensive or is it just an innate trait? Noah Jupe is most certainly one of the most promising actors of his young generation and it feels like he deserves something more nuanced to work with.

Speaking of underutilised actors, did anybody else feel let down by the casting of the wonderful Djimon Hounsou and Scoot McNairy in two roles that can count as cameos (especially the latter) and frustratingly so? Even if they could theoretically be back in the likely third chapter (at least one of them), I doubt their character development would get any meatier. And trust me, I’m all for the whole “there are no small parts, only small actors” deal but believe me when I say those two talents needed better. At least the most satisfying element of their scenes is the level of Lost-esque vibes that were oozing off the screen. I couldn’t help but thinking about The Others, their residential compounds, their ambiguous agenda, and the creepy scene at the docks brought me back to helpless Michael (Harold Perrinneau) seeing his son getting kidnapped at the end of season one.

Now, just like I hope that Krasinski spends more time on his characters next time, I truly wish The Walking Dead takes a pointer or two from the Quiet franchise when it comes to pick up the pace and crank up the thrills in its upcoming final season. Besides having evidently jumped the shark, the show seems to have forgotten how to entertain us whilst repeating character beats ad nauseam. Krasinski on the contrary deserves applause for putting Regan front and centre. Having a deaf protagonist played by a deaf actress who is so brilliant with her emotional range is what makes A Quiet Place Part II such a compelling watch despite its flaws. It’s about time Hollywood took consistent steps towards representation and inclusion because sure, audiences may get lured to the cinema by the high concept, but they stay and come back for the human factor. That is after all why we live in the golden age of television, baby!

A Quiet Place Part II is in UK cinemas now.

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