Actor turned auteur John Krasinski does “A Quiet Place Part II” a terrible disserve right out of the gate.
The “Office” alum orchestrates one of the best opening sequences of any recent horror film. It’s perfection, from the inspired slice of Small Town U.S.A. to those grip-the-armrest scares.
The rest of the oft-delayed sequel is rock solid, but it can’t compare to that bravura opening. Nor can “Part II” measure up to the original, a film that caught nearly everyone flat-footed three years ago.
The horror sequel starts as … a prequel. It’s Day One of the alien invasion, and we reunite with the Abbotts as they soak in a perfect day of Little League baseball.
The game is interrupted by smoke and fire in the sky, and suddenly the creatures introduced in the first “Quiet Place” are running amok in this heartland hamlet.
The sequence is something Steven Spielberg might pull off, combining all-American details with horrors from above. Heck, it’s as good as Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” sequence introducing the alien menace.
Can you pay Krasinski a higher compliment in pop culture parlance?
The story swiftly shifts to the “present,” or moments after the events of “A Quiet Place” wrapped. Evelyn (Emily Blunt), her teen kids Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe), along with their newborn sibling are scrambling to leave their home after fending off several creatures.
FAST FACT: The 2018 “A Quiet Place” shocked Hollywood by earning $50.2 million in its opening weekend en route to a $188 million tally stateside.
The family must find a new safe place, and they think they find some help in the form of Emmett, a former neighbor and official Daddy Replacement played by “Peaky Blinders” star Cillian Murphy. Together, they must scramble from A. to B. to C., meanwhile re-learning one of Hollywood’s most exhausted tropes.
Some humans are even scarier than movie monsters.
The original “Quiet Place” shrewdly showcased the wonders of the nuclear family in a way that never sacrificed the action or tension. Here, the themes are more subdued and less interesting. The family’s teens are the true stars now, and while young Simmonds has screen presence to spare the transition isn’t as intriguing as the original conceit.
What’s worse? The story feels episodic at best, as if this were yet another streaming series with a new episode waiting to be played. Our heroes encounter some of the typically bad humans, natch, and scramble around the new, unfriendly landscape knowing the monsters are lurking … everywhere.
The latter element should get stale mid-sequel, but Krasinski is so adept at scaring us that never happens. He’s less successful fleshing out the supporting players. Murphy is always solid, but he’s given a simplistic arc that could be done by any ol’ star. Djimon Hounsou feels like a smart addition to the franchise, but he has too little screen time to register as required.
That leaves the goodwill generated by the original film (and that’s plenty). It certainly more than horror movies demand, but the original “Place” set the genre bar so high the sequel still feels like a missed opportunity. That’s even more apparent when you consider that bravura opening.
“Part II” also does little to build upon the world created in the first film. We still know little about the fast-moving aliens, what their motivations are (beyond kill … and keep on killing) or how humanity might fight back on a sizable scale. Making a sequel and adding so little to the larger canvas feels like a cheat.
And yet who wouldn’t line up to see a new horror movie helmed by Krasinski?
The director’s sense of place, his audio choices and perspectives are dizzying in that prequel-style opening. As soon as the sequence wraps you want to hit a magical rewind button and experience it all over again.
It’s enough to make you crave an entire prequel project, not a sequel that delivers scares aplenty but lacks the poignancy of the original film.
HiT or Miss: “A Quiet Place Part II” delivers all the scares you crave, and more. Too bad the story isn’t as fresh or compelling as the first time around.