I’m still not entirely convinced Jim from The Office is directing these movies, but let’s say for the sake of argument that he is: John Krasinski is doing a solid job bringing back pulp filmmaking.
Certainly, A Quiet Place is a “gimmick” series, about aliens who can’t see but have acute hearing — the invention of writers Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, whose spec script Krasinski read in 2016. Krasinski, Woods, and Beck apply this basic conceit in service of an alien invasion movie that’s shot more like a horror movie than an action blockbuster. The scale is intimate, the CGI minimal, big battle scenes non-existent. It’s a popcorn movie shot at human scale, and in cutting out all the superfluous bullshit it manages to remind us that going to the movies can be fun.
At a time when imagery is more mundane and dime-a-million than ever, A Quiet Place provokes rapt attention to every frame, creating old-school Hitchcock suspense where the crunch of a leaf or the tumble of a pebble take on life-or-death importance. Gimmick or not, forcing the viewer to pay close attention to every frame is about the greatest trick a movie can play. It helps that Polly Morgan’s cinematography is lucid and captivating — you have to look, but you want to, too.
Picking up where A Quiet Place left off (I assume, I actually never saw it), A Quiet Place Part II follows Emily Blunt’s Evelyn, her deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), son Marcus (Noah Jupe), and baby, whose name isn’t really important, as they set out from their woodsy home in search of… like, stuff to help them survive in the post-apocalyptic alienscape and whatnot (again, honestly, not that important). Regan has one weird trick that aliens hate — sticking her cochlear implant next to an amplifier to create shrieking feedback (good thing she never saw A Sound Of Metal, which would’ve almost certainly dissuaded her from getting a cochlear implant. And then where would this movie be?).
The family eventually finds a family friend, Emmett (Cillian Murphy), who helps them hide inside a mostly sound-proof furnace under three feet of concrete in an old factory. One day while fiddling with the dial on a transistor radio, Marcus comes across a radio station that only plays one song — “Across The Sea,” which Regan thinks might be a clue to where it’s broadcasting from. If she can get to the station, they can maybe find new people to chill with, and she might be able to do her feedback thingy on a massive scale, turning all transistor radios into potential stun guns and thus democratizing the means of killing bad guys.
And with that, I’ve described basically the entire movie. The fact that the story is straightforward is part of what makes A Quiet Place II work so well. Even the title is a clue to the film’s sensibilities. Before the film, I saw trailers for countless sequels, from Top Gun: Maverick to The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, and if you asked me to put the MCU movies in chronological order I’d probably have a nervous breakdown. How refreshing, how retro, how gloriously logical it is, then, for a sequel to just be called “Part II.”
The plot, which is essentially just a slightly less dumb version of Signs, is a basic framework into which Krasinski (allegedly) and Polly Morgan stuff all kinds of formalistically classical vignettes. The film is far more about the suspense of individual scenes than exactly where the characters are going and why. Shot vividly on 35mm film, A Quiet Place II is never not a master class in composition. It creates always a fully realized awareness of whatever space in which each scene takes place, with clear perspective and a dynamic range of different shots. The plot makes you study each frame intently, and the execution of each shot is so effective that your eyes never get bored. It’s just fundamentally sound, meat-and-potatoes filmmaking.
With its edge-of-your-seat suspense and ever-present tension, A Quiet Place II is the perfect movie to see in a theater, totally immersed and not checking your phone (though I will admit, there was a disgusting, round-bellied slob a few seats behind me open-mouthed chewing his popcorn more loudly than I’d previously thought possible during my screening).
With its lack of explosions, CGI, and giant battle scenes, perhaps the most important thing A Quiet Place II does is understand that the future of theatrical spectacle isn’t in trying to make movies “big,” it’s in making them small. It shrinks the alien invasion movie down to a human scale. Did I mention that the run time is 97 minutes? More of this, please.