Actor/director John Krasinski’s 2018 thriller “A Quiet Place” is terrific for several reasons, but chief among them is how he takes a monster horror film and transforms it into a metaphor for the primal, paranoid, and elemental fears and “what if?” situations vulnerable and exposed parents can often dream up after having defenseless newborns. There’s a parental primitive instinct that kicks in and can really drum up your imagination, and Krasinski uses a basic monster’s invasion idea by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck and reverse-engineers the story to pose a terrifying thought. What’s a parent’s worst nightmare scenario? How about the horrors of the apocalypse and monsters that try and destroy the very fabric of your existence while you have young helpless children you must keep safe at all costs? Imbue that idea with Hitchcockian cinematic tension and expert craft, and yep, “A Quiet Place” checks all the boxes of a scary and deeply engrossing thriller with the highest of emotional stakes.

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“A Quiet Place Part II” picks up where that film left off, literally and figuratively. Set hours later, ‘Part II’ is still all about that parenting life with Mama Bear Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt), doing her all to protect her baby cubs (Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe), but ostensibly provides room for the kids to grow as people. But more importantly, Krasinski reignites the entire harrowing premise of the movie—what’s a parent’s worst nightmare?—by actually presenting the original trauma this time.

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In a prelude and mini-prequel that feels like a first act, Krasinski takes the viewer back to the very moment the Abbott family witnessed first-hand, the horrific experience that would forever disrupt and change their lives. In some ways, it’s old hat and old emotional territory. Still, the way it viscerally retriggers one’s fear and horrors—a suburban baseball game that grows terrifyingly ominous when flaming objects start falling out of the sky, and a genuinely gripping panic begins to escalate in everyone—is rather ingeniously effective (the way Krasinski uses sound, silence, and composition to build tension throughout is outstanding).

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Krasinski is really in top form in this sequence—arguably the film’s best—and the first act feels like a kind of One Perfect Shot of “Jaws”-like orchestrated build-up, tension, suspense, and then balls-to-the-walls chaos that reminds why the first film was such a success. However, after a startlingly terrific first act, “A Quiet Place Part II” begins to lose its way a little bit because of its plot and the way it hopes to give agency to its kids. The thriller is still engrossing in many spots but ultimately doesn’t come together like the first one. Though, it’s not for lack of trying.

In ‘Part II,’ the Abbots have to abandon their farm and are on the run. This leads them to Emmett (Cillian Murphy), an old neighborhood friend who has lost everything and has begun to lose his own humanity. Emmett has turned harsh and unforgiving and tells the Abbots they can take shelter for one night but best be on their way the next morning. However, before he can force them out, Regan (Simmonds), the deaf child, sneaks off, trying to find the answers to the “Beyond The Sea” message that keeps playing on one recently discovered radio frequency. It’s what her dad would do: keep searching and looking for solutions no matter the risk.

Evelyn (Blunt), channeling all the grief and suffering this mother has been through, begs Emmett to chase her down and bring her back to safety. This launches perhaps an overly complex, three-pronged story that breaks up the family unit and relegates Blunt to the background. One story features Emmett and Regan in the woods, off on their own odyssey, another Evelyn heading back to town for medical supplies—Marcus (Noah Jupe) is injured early on—and adjunct to that one, Marcus back at the “base” tending to the baby (that rarely cries and or eats food, living on a steady diet of oxygen apparently). Each party faces its own struggles, and of course, monster face-offs that will threaten their lives (there’s also a really great cameo to look for in a scene of sea-side terror).

Structurally, this is where “A Quiet Place Part II” gets a bit lost. In separating the entire family—often to demonstrate how the kids are coming into their own as humans, thinkers, and survivors—the emotional tether of things becomes loosened.  The film then deftly tries to intercut all three stories to drive tension but often gets a little too cute about it—like Krasinski just discovered cross-cutting editing techniques and gets ambitious but a little heavy-handed about the way it all blends together.  It’s also where ‘Part II’ reveals itself to be fairly episodic in nature—an uneven, unsatisfying middle chapter that abruptly ends with only a small thematic statement—“the kids are alright,” literally and figuratively. And yet, despite the kind of unsettling cliffhanger the movie ends on, it still remains a rewarding thriller despite its problems.

And there are arguably quite a few. For one, set just hours after the death of Krasinski’s patriarch character from the original, no one seems to be traumatized or devastated. Yes, to some extent, the characters are too busy to grapple with grief, but from an emotional perspective, especially given how emotional the original was, it’s a curiously strange choice. ‘AQP2’ also floats this idea about survival and salvation and those who are and aren’t worthy of saving. The film floats this notion early on like it will be reckoned with in some dramatic apex later on, but mostly abandons the idea in favor of the layered plotting (and the kids are good, but sorry, they’re no Emily Blunt).

As an experience, “A Quiet Place Part II” is still riveting and intense and should check all the boxes for most audiences, especially in the “I just wanna be gripped and entertained” post-pandemic age. For those looking for a little more depth and soul and a movie to fully coalesce in the end? Well, you might have to wait for the next chapter for some true thematic and emotional closure, but still, it’ll be hard to argue this won’t be an escapist thrill for most audiences in theaters, at least. [B/B+]

“A Quiet Place Part II” arrives in theaters on May 28.