The movies that studios held onto for more than a year, waiting until theatrical releases made sense, fell into a few categories: Those with the kind of impact that needed jumbo-sized screens. Those that were destined to be big hits. And those that were fantastic. "A Quiet Place: Part II," playing exclusively in theaters, is all three.
John Krasinski's sure-footed sequel (and, in the dynamite opening sequence, prequel) is everything you want a summer horror movie to be, made by a writer/director who is clearly both a fan and a student of scary movies.
As Krasinski showed in the first "Quiet Place," he's not afraid to guide the story into a situation that seems impossible to get out of, only to find an ingenious way to do just that. He knows when to give us information and when to withhold it, where to stick the scary stuff in the frame so it either shocks us or sneaks up on us, how to pace a scene to build tension and that frightening things mean even more when they're amplified by genuine emotion.
Most of that comes from Emily Blunt's Evelyn, whose husband (real-life spouse Krasinski) died in the first movie and who's trying to help her three children survive a rural area now overrun by vicious monsters who pounce on any prey that makes a sound. Blunt is the one who makes us believe in the world, in part because Krasinski's script gives her real-world problems to solve, such as how you teach a newborn to be quiet, but also because Blunt embraces the challenge of conveying character without words. Near the end of the movie, she has a revelatory scene in which the expression on her face somehow conveys this complicated notion: "Oh, I get it. This is what the job of being a mom is all about."
Evelyn's non-hearing daughter, Regan (Millicent Simmonds, who's fantastic), has a bigger role this time and, again, Krasinski's smart storytelling pays off. "I can save us," Regan tells her brother before attempting to do that, guided by a radio signal that keeps broadcasting the Bobby Darin song "Beyond the Sea."
Krasinski and his designers use sound innovatively throughout "Part II," often abruptly cutting to silence to indicate that the movie is shifting from another character to Regan's perspective. Throughout, "Part II" insists that having different abilities is a strength, showing how Regan uses deafness to her advantage as she battles the monsters. In one scene, Krasinski does one of the most thrilling things a movie can do: He subtly teaches us something about the way Regan approaches the world that will pay off big, later in the movie.
If I had to complain about "Part II," the best I could come up with is that a perplexing new character, played by the smartly cast Cillian Murphy, tells Evelyn that some people are worth saving and some are not, an idea it seems the movie plans to explore but doesn't.
However, it succeeds at just about everything else: It's suspenseful, moving and visually assured, especially in a haunting shot of a train platform that recalls a monument in Budapest that also pays tribute to people who were slaughtered, leaving behind nothing but their shoes.
Grief hovers over "A Quiet Place: Part II" but it's more a movie about resilience and survival. I really liked the first "Quiet Place" and was skeptical Krasinski could top it but I'm here to shout loudly that he has.
A Quiet Place Part II
⋆⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: PG-13, terror, violence and bloody/disturbing images.
Theaters: Wide release.