GamesRadar+ and Total Film are celebrating the biggest new releases as we head back to the cinema! This week: A Quiet Place 2. We sneaked on-set of the super-secret production back in early 2020 to discover how Part II is looking to go bigger while also staying true to its beginnings... This article first appeared in print – buy the magazine here.
Often on a film set, the atmosphere is one of cathedral-like silence. Crew scamper around whispering, the admonishment of ‘Quiet please!’ is shouted regularly, and any on-set dialogue is captured by mics and relayed noiselessly through headsets to those mutely watching proceedings. Amid the disused steelworks of Seneca in Buffalo, New York, on a bright August day before the 2019 Labour Day weekend, the production of A Quiet Place 2 observes no such repose.
In a film with very little dialogue, there’s no need for headsets, and in the cavernous mill building, as dust motes swirl, John Krasinski is enthusiastically bellowing orders to his buzzing team. An upbeat but commanding presence, he’s working fast to make use of the precious hours he has with his two child actors before they have to attend school. “Cillian’s going to come in and hopefully not decapitate my wife!” he jokes cheerfully as he maps out a scene where real-life spouse, Emily Blunt, fearfully rushes through the building with her on-screen kids before being ambushed by Cillian Murphy’s mysterious stranger, whirling her round and clamping a hand over her mouth. As the takes play out, Krasinski shouts out enthusiastic encouragement (“Great!” “More of that!”), and moves with the action as though he’s in the scene with the actors. He was a central character in the first film as well as writer/director, and the muscle memory of performing with this close-knit cast apparently hasn’t left him.
"One of the things in the edit that’s the most frustrating to me is editing out my annoying voice!" he says later when he gives Total Film a tour of the sets. "But also, the other half is me being an actor. This sounds super-cheesy – but I do believe that when you’re into a real moment, as a director it’s such an honor for me to see these actors connecting to that moment. The last thing you want is for your director to go, ‘Cut! Alright, let’s try it again this way.’ So I try to give them notes in the moment so that they can keep going with whatever they think they’re doing." He waits a beat. "And also just talk over their performance all the time..."
Though he’s a charming and self-deprecating host, that connectivity and the lack of sound is hugely important to this film, hoping to catch the same lightning in a bottle as its predecessor. Before A Quiet Place opened the South By Southwest festival in March 2018, it was just a small horror film written and directed by that guy from The Office. After it screened to rave reviews, its social-media footprint exploded and its opening-weekend figures soared – plus it gained the praise of one Stephen King ("an extraordinary piece of work," he tweeted). A genuine sleeper hit.
The thinking-man’s blockbuster no one saw coming, it connected to audiences on an elemental and visceral level with its deceptively simple tale of the Abbott family living in a post- apocalyptic world where noise-attracted aliens prey on humans. Led by Dad, Lee (Krasinski), and Mom, Evelyn (Blunt), the Abbotts had survived thanks to ingenuity and their ability to use American Sign Language due to the hearing-impairment of their daughter, Regan (Millicent Simmonds). After a family tragedy and with Evelyn pregnant, the repercussions for making any sound lay heavy on the group, creating emotional fractures between Lee and Regan – and Regan and her sibling, Marcus (Noah Jupe). Spoiler alert, it doesn’t end well for Lee (“He’s a goner!” says Blunt) and fades to black as Evelyn and Regan face off against attacking ETs using the high pitch of a glitchy hearing aid to disable them...
At a taut 90 minutes and stacked with as much character study as jump-scares, A Quiet Place transcended its genre to court awards, became part of a conversation about ‘elevated horror’ and inspired fan theories about deeper themes. "I was gobsmacked!" Blunt recalls of her reaction to the buzz that built while she was filming Jungle Cruise. "Not only by just how many people went to see it and then told their friends to see it, and then it had this meteoric life that was not expected by me... but also the very deep metaphorical themes that people pulled out of it, some of which were intended, and some of which really weren’t. They found it really involving and exciting."
Of course with numbers and reach as big as it got ($340.1m, thank you very much), a sequel looked inevitable. But both Krasinski and Blunt were resistant to the idea. "You know, I wrote the first one to be one thing," Krasinski recalls as we stand next to a set of the Abbott farm silo – made famous in a terrifying sequence in the first film. "And then when it did well, and [the studio] were like, ‘We’re going to go do a sequel’ – I thought, ‘Great. Go find someone else. It’ll be great. Enjoy it.’" Blunt agrees: "We were aware that the studio was probably going to make a sequel, with or without us. There was a sense of protection of this baby that John had created. And I think that ultimately he was always going to maybe grandfather the next one. But we were both very steadfast about not being involved. And then all of that mad reaction happened and he was suddenly like, ‘I have an idea. I don’t know. It’s just a beginning of an idea...’"
The Silent Treatment
That idea was that in the absence of the patriarch, Regan would be made the new leader. Picking up literally seconds after the first film closes, Regan and Evelyn will battle the advancing creatures and in the aftermath, seeing their homestead on fire, realise where they have been sheltering is now no longer a safe haven. In the first film Lee had seen fires in the distance that he took to be signals from other survivors and Regan, using her father’s gathered intel and training, will push the family (now with an hours-old baby born in terrifying silence in a bathtub during a creature attack) to move away from the known (relative) safety of the farm to beyond the sound-deadening sand trails they had previously walked...
"The idea for me was not just to make Regan the lead of the movie, but why she was the lead of the movie was because she was the younger version of Lee," Krasinski enthuses, talking a mile a minute during a break in filming. "And if she and Lee were soul partners, then there’s this idea of her feeling such guilt [about his death] – and what do you do with guilt? It can either consume you, or you can take up a mantle for someone. And not to be overly poetic, but there’s that idea of the youth, of their generation, where I hope we will never accept the current situation. We can always do better."
In this regard, Total Film suggests, A Quiet Place 2 seems pretty conjugant to our real-life world of climate change and corrupt politics being challenged by teens such as Greta Thunberg and Emma Gonzalez? "Amen, yeah," Krasinski nods. "I was talking to my dad, and I was like, ‘Are we in the worst times ever? Or has it always been this way?’ And he’s like, ‘When you’re in the times, it always feels like the worst.’ I think that’s weirdly comforting that it’s about how we react to the world, rather than letting the world around us define us. So this idea that Regan is not only a young girl going through this growing-up phase – and she’s growing up way too quickly – but she’s also got hope."
"I love that idea that this little girl has the answer, and she can’t live with herself, knowing that she’s only protecting this small group of people, when she could be protecting the entire world. That level of bravery and that level of heroism is what we always celebrate in the most iconic storytelling."
Blunt remembers Krasinski pitching the idea to her and it growing as they discussed it until she felt torn on her own no-sequel stance. "The idea felt too good. It seemed like a natural graduation, you know, that ultimately because of Regan’s ‘weakness’ becoming weaponised in some way, she should lead the charge. And what happens next? What does this family do? And whether or not it was a second film or a first film, I was like, ‘Do I want to be in a film that tells this story?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, I do!’"
Of course, following a proven hit, Part II attracted more funding, opening the scale and scope of the Abbotts’ world. "It is definitely more money than the first – I can tell you that," smiles producer Andrew Form when asked what budget the production is playing with this time around. “What that gets you is more shooting days. The first one was basically a one-location movie, where we had four characters on a farm for almost the entire film. This movie, we are in seven different locations. We are constantly on the move. And they’re big locations... from crossing suspension bridges where cars and everything are left behind, to steel mills.” As we’ve seen from the trailer, that means spying the town where the Abbotts lived their normal life before alien attacks began, and more of the national scale of this disaster.
More budget also buys you the award-winning skills of the Coens’ longtime, lauded art director, Jess Gonchor. As we sneak peeks at an underground bunker set seen in the trailer (complete with heavy-looking furnace actually made of foam, with a door that’s disconcertingly light to open), Gonchor’s impressive work is easy to appreciate even to the untrained eye. "Jess has been such an incredible partner," Krasinski says, moving around the set and pointing at various parts like a kid at Disneyland, "because as pretentious and ridiculous as this sounds – and being a Boston Catholic kid, I can’t even talk like this but... don’t tell anybody back home I talk like this... But having the idea in your head is so exciting but also terrifying, because you’re wondering whether or not you can communicate it to someone else... He designs that. And you just can’t believe it. And truly every single detail, every texture, every layer was in my head."
The fact that he’s got the Coens’ production genius also tickles Krasinski on another level as he admits his inspiration for the feel of these films included some of Gonchor’s most iconic work. "My tonal movie guide I was watching all the time: There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men and True Grit. If the first one was intimate, almost like a homegrown western, this is a more of a travelling western. It feels more epic."
The Quiet Life
Bringing Blunt back as Mom on the project ("You know, the truth of the matter is, she’s as good as it gets... You’re lucky to direct her in any way, shape or form," Krasinski enthuses of his wife) also meant bringing back the kids, a newborn baby (played by twin nippers) plus Jupe and Simmonds, both of whom had grown in the time between shooting the two films. "We didn’t have to Irishman them!" Krasinski laughs of de-aging his young cast. But the family dynamic did need to be back to same level of intimacy that they’d achieved on the first film. "We did fall back into step really effortlessly," Blunt smiles of reuniting with her on-screen kids. "I do naturally have quite a maternal feeling towards them and I’m really proud of them, and everything they’ve gone on to do. So yeah, it is very easy for us all to feel like a family when we work together again. There was more joking around and piss-taking this time around but they don’t abuse that ease. They are so focused when they need to be. They’re just pros."
Of course, that dynamic isn’t quite the same as the previous film when Krasinski was in front of the camera as well as behind, playing Lee – before he made the ultimate paternal sacrifice. "That was a lack of foresight on my part," Krasinski banters when considering he could have been in the sequel had he not written himself out. "I had to kill my character to complete that metaphor of what you would do for your kids. I would love to be a part of the second movie because it’s just so much fun. So damn myself for that. But spirit-wise and metaphor-wise, it was a foregone conclusion that that had to happen.”
From the trailer we now know we’ll see Day 1 of the attack (the first film began on Day 89) and Krasinski will reappear in a flashback. "I’m in the movie," he jokes on-set, pre-trailer. "I’m just covered in flour, rattling chains. I do the old Jacob Marley ghost bit!" What’s more certain is that he won’t be appearing as the creature as he did on the original, providing the reference point and movement for the ETs in a mo-cap suit (Google the pictures) and popping up in the first test screening before the SFX was completed. He tips his baseball cap down and shakes his head; "Once I saw myself on celluloid, standing up in a skin-tight suit that was three sizes too small with dots all over me? I was like, ‘Note to self, I’ll never do that again.’"
With one key character gone, a new baby to transport (the padded box and oxygen mask which had kept the newborn silent in the last film will return... but how much oxygen have the family got?) and new locations to explore, there’s inevitably space for new characters to appear on the Abbotts’ odyssey. In the first film the only other people the family encountered were an old couple in the woods (didn’t end well for them either) but with a move from a rural world to more of an urban environment, the Abbotts will meet Cillian Murphy’s steel mill-dwelling Emmett, and Djimon Hounsou, whose role is still a mystery.
Whether they will pose an additional, human, threat to the Abbotts – or provide a new community – remains to be seen. Certainly it’s not just creatures the family should be wary of – as Emmett will tell them on initial meeting, "The people that are left are not the kind of people that are worth saving." This notion of now seeing what has happened to other survivors outside of the Abbott experience is also what convinced Krasinski that there was mileage in a second film. "One of the biggest questions I had when I was first pondering the first script was: how does everyone else live? I wanted to keep it very tight and in the perspective of one family. I never wanted to go outside the farm on the first one, but it was always in the back of my head. And then to see the reaction from the first movie, and that people had that same question, was really inspiring to me. Because it was something that I felt very much I wanted to explore."
"I was blown away by it!" says Murphy of his reaction to the first film when we sit down in his trailer, admitting that he had the same questions when he watched it. As an icon of the genre from his work on Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, he was impressed by Krasinski’s ‘unbelievably original’ movie. "I was like, ‘I’m going to write an email to John Krasinski, because that was an amazing piece of work’. So I wrote the email. And then I was like, ‘Ah, that’s so cheesy,’ and I never sent it. A year later, I got a call saying, ‘Would you be interested in A Quiet Place 2?’" His pale blue eyes widen with delight. ("When he told me about that, I joked and said, ‘Well, had I gotten the email, I would have thought you were too forward, and never would have given it to you... too desperate!’" says Krasinski later. "Now that I’ve married a Brit, I’ve become very British. It’s called tall poppy syndrome.")
Determined to keep his character an enigma ("I hate spoilers, I don’t want to read anything about a movie before I see it"), Murphy says, "for me, Emmett represents where the heart of the world lies right now, which is: finally feeling like they’ve all given up. Here comes this girl who allows you to believe in more, and allows you to believe in yourself. That idea, I’ve always been really enthralled by."
"What [Murphy and Hounsou’s characters] represent the most strongly, is that there are other people out there," says Krasinski. "How did they survive and how do they survive?’ becomes the question and the story for the second one." They also "explore the idea of a fractured sense of community that I think we’re all feeling in the world right now," muses Blunt. "This is that magnified. How far would you go to extend your hand for your neighbor in times like these?"
Mum's The Word
Like its predecessor, A Quiet Place 2 releases during uneasy social and political times in the real world. So is this why audiences might be more attracted to horror as escapism? "People thought 28 Days Later was prescient and it was very of the times," Murphy shrugs. "I just think people love to put themselves in the role, and go, ‘What would I do?’" For Krasinski, there’s something more psychological at work: "Drew Goddard told me that the beauty of genre is that it keeps you at an arm’s length, which allows you to deal with whatever’s on the screen in a filtered way. If you watched E.T., you’ll be like, ‘Oh, this isn’t about divorce. This is about an alien! I will allow myself to get into it.’ And you realize later that you have all these feelings about divorce." So, what, then, is A Quiet Place really about?
"Certainly the first movie – it sounds insane – was a love letter to my kids,” Krasinski says. "There’s a much deeper parental metaphor in the first one than just a scary movie. This movie is very much about loss, and how you deal with loss. And every parent knows that one day... hopefully not as tragically as my character suffered... but one day, your children will have to go out in the world without you. And that is what this movie is about."
For Blunt, the role of Evelyn has been "the most visceral, personal thing" she’s ever played and is a reflection of her feelings about motherhood. "What Evelyn experiences and feels for her children is so mirrored to my own. I realized that nothing pierces your heart as directly as your children do in life. So if you’re playing a character who, in many ways, defines herself by how she protects and loves her children... it was so deeply personal for me. It just feels very close to home – very close."
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It’s little wonder Blunt talks of the project as having been part of her family for the last few years – and if this film has the same success as the first, it could be part of the Blunt-Krasinskis’ life even longer. After all, a sequel often leads to a trilogy... "I set up a couple of tiny little Easter eggs in II that not only explain more about I, but would allow for more mythology," Krasinski admits. "But again, being a Boston Catholic, I can’t be like, ‘Yeah, of course, there’ll be a third!’ No, not at all. I haven’t heard from the studio that they want a third one. But the good news is that the studio and I are on the same page in that this isn’t one of those franchises where we keep pumping them out if they make money. I think we’ve proven that this is an original idea that is really beloved by people in a way that... I don’t want to break that promise to people."
He pauses. "But if I could think of a way to continue this world as elegantly as people deserve, because they gave me their trust in watching this movie and loving this movie as much as they did? Sure. But if you’re asking: do I think I could just do a third one, to just do a third one? No way. To just be like, ‘Here’s another version of the movie where Emily runs through the forest and rips their heads off with a shotgun?’" He smiles and shakes his head. "That’s not what I’m going to give them..." As a Boston Catholic might say: Amen to that.
A Quiet Place 2 is in US theaters now and UK cinemas from June 4. For more, check out the most exciting upcoming movies heading to cinemas.