A Quiet Place was almost a great movie. The first 80 minutes are solid, but the final scene contains one of the dumbest twists this side of late-period Shyamalan. Turns out the creatures with super-enhanced hearing are weakened by—you guessed it—high-frequency sounds, and somehow no one figured that out during an entire year of fighting the invaders. The greatest minds of every military force across the globe couldn’t put two and two together, but a teenager with a microphone cracked the (absurdly simple) code? Absolutely not. Explain yourself, A Quiet Place Part II.

The sequel picks up at the exact moment A Quiet Place left off, with newly widowed Evelyn Abbot having just killed one of the creatures after her daughter Regan weakened it with her legendary powers of deduction. Fleeing the compound where they’d been living for months, Evelyn and her three kids book it to the nearest sign of life, where they run into old family friend Emmett (Cillian Murphy). He’s got an improvised bunker too, but several problems arise: Emmett’s reserves can’t sustain five people, Evelyn is running out of oxygen for her soundproof baby carrier, and Regan wants to find a radio tower so she can broadcast high-frequency noises across the land. Unlike the first movie, staying put is no longer a viable option.

READ ALSO: Silence has never been so golden until ‘A Quiet Place’

And so A Quiet Place Part II ventures out into the world, checking the sequel box of going bigger than the original. Like moving from Alien to Aliens or from Jurassic Park to The Lost World, you’ll see more characters, more of the creatures, and a lot more action. Part II shares more DNA with The Lost World than Aliens, though—instead of leaning into the pivot from horror to action, Part II tries to have it both ways, swinging between the restraint of small spaces and the wide-open possibilities of big action sequences. Sometimes it does both at the same time, as the sequel splits its characters into groups and crosscuts between their concurrent journeys.

This does lose some of what made the first film special. The tight, sparse, family-driven horror/drama of the original only reappears in bits and pieces, and the rest of Part II hovers around an awkward middle ground, transplanting its mano-a-mano creature faceoffs into bigger, less densely populated locales where noisy solutions are less of an issue. Hurt one monster with a loud shotgun blast? No problem, just run fifty feet away and hide behind a rock before the other one gets there. The set pieces are never that pedestrian, thankfully, with returning director John Krasinski staging the confrontations rather capably. Even with the claustrophobia dialed down, Krasinski and the sound design team find ways to turn battles into deadly puzzles, which is no small feat. But nothing in Part II is quite as tense as the original. If it went the Aliens route of upping the creature count in the larger setting, it could’ve raised the danger quotient considerably, but Part II is content to keep A Quiet Place-ing in louder places, so to speak.

It also carries on the tradition of slipshod writing that was established by the original’s ending. Taking over for screenwriters Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, Krasinski gets sole screenplay credit here, and it’s painfully clear that he’s not as gifted a writer as he is a director. There’s conflict between Regan and Emmett that’s contrived out of nowhere to echo the father-daughter conflict in the previous film, and because Regan’s anger towards Emmett is so flimsily justified, any reconciliation between them falls just as flat. And the world of A Quiet Place is still populated by complete idiots. From jaw-droppingly dumb decisions made under pressure to Regan’s continued outsmarting of seasoned survivalists, the lack of logical thinking is an immersion killer.

If A Quiet Place Part II had a lesser cast, its story might not work at all. But my god, the cast. Emily Blunt and Cillian Murphy do the great work that’s expected of them, but it’s young actors Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe that deserve the height of commendation. Jupe—who’s come off as a natural in everything I’ve seen him in—is at his best, wearing fear and pain on his face with a believability that casting directors would kill for. Simmonds, who’s basically the protagonist in Part II, is astoundingly good. The movie takes her character to demanding places and she’s game for them all, channeling robust emotion through physical performance and ASL. This is her movie, through and through, and the decision to center Simmonds is the screenplay’s smartest gambit. The ending may be a textbook case of sequel-baiting, but having a chance to watch Simmonds come even further into her own is impossible to turn down. If A Quiet Place Part III is the one to go full Aliens, I’d accept Regan as our new Ripley in a heartbeat.

★★★½   (3.5/5)