8/10 A Quiet Place Part II isn’t the first blockbuster to release after the COVID-19 crisis really got underway, but it’s the first to perform more or less to expectation. It’s a uniquely cinematic experience and would be an intriguing editing experiment in any year.
Upstate New York, 474 days post-invasion- Earth is occupied by “dark angels,” blind predators with incredible strength and speed, a completely bulletproof exoskeleton and a sense of hearing so powerful and keen that they are summoned by the slightest noise, and they have wiped out most of the human race. After their farm is destroyed in the first film, what remains of the Abbott family, Evelyn and children Regan and Marcus (Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe), with her new day-old son in tow, break to stay with Emmett (Cillian Murphy), a family friend from before the invasion and one of the community of survivors from their town. From there, the group splits. Marcus, who is caught in a bear trap and unable to walk, stays at the camp alone with the baby; Evelyn makes the dangerous journey into town for medical supplies; and Regan, who has discovered a way to use feedback from her hearing aid to make the creatures vulnerable, tracks a radio broadcast to what appears to be Chebeague Island in Maine, where she hopes to broadcast the feedback so the monsters can be destroyed en mass.
Also, A Quiet Place Part II begins with a long flashback sequence of the first day of the invasion, introducing Emmett and following the deceased Lee Abbott (John Krasinski, who also writes, directs and produces) through the chaos.
In A Quiet Place Part II, Krasinski returns to the director’s chair for the fourth time, but only the second time since finishing his breakout run in The Office. He’s bound to continuing this series because the first one made gobs of cash – just under $341 million worldwide against a budget of $17 million – but he’s also a young director who wants to experiment, so it makes sense that A Quiet Place Part II is an experimental film.
The movie is a long exercise in parallel editing and match cutting as the three plotlines of Evelyn, Marcus and Regan Abbott play out in extended parallel. Usually, crosscutting sequences like this are limited to climaxes that take place simultaneously – think the climactic sequence of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi for a good example or Star Wars: The Phantom Menace for a bad one – or other key sequences that are meant to be tied together for artistic reasons – the classic example here would be the final scene of The Godfather.
But in A Quiet Place Part II, the majority of the film, I’d say about 70 of the 97 minutes, is one big crosscutting sequence. Regan Abbott breaks off, then Evelyn Abbott realizes she needs medical equipment immediately and breaks off, and the scene sort of spaghettifies into an entire movie. We’re rarely with a single plotline for more than a few minutes.
This feels like curt filmmaking at first, then a clever conceit when you realize it’s an intentional exercise, and finally a wonderfully executed scene when all three plotlines climax at the same time and the cross-cuts are so rapid that they’re essentially in the same scene and you get a ton of match cuts to tie everything together. This is basically “Match Cut: The Movie” by the end. A lot of praise is due to editor Michael P. Shawver, but an editor can only work with the shots he’s given, and with this degree of coordination and this amount of emphasis placed on match cutting as a technique, it’s clearly the writer and director, both of whom were Krasinski in this case, who takes most of the credit.
Structuring things this way makes it a bit of a puzzle box of a movie, with everything needing to fit together just so, and it doesn’t quite work all of the time. At some moments, it’s spectacular, during some stretches it feels barely intentional, but it gets stronger as it moves along and leaves a good impression. As with all highly artistic mainstream movies, it’s mostly just nice to see those two things coexist, to see this level of conceit can still take over a larger-budget project.
Originally set for release March 20, 2020 and having already had its world premiere March 8 before American theaters shut down, A Quiet Place Part II is a great movie to herald the end of the pandemic era at theaters. The silence necessitated by the premise made the first film a uniquely cinematic experience – I’ve found that a little bit of static from an audience can actually enhance long stretches of silence from a movie. The movie drew just over $57 million over the long Memorial Day weekend, shattering Godzilla vs. Kong’s COVID-era record of $31.6 million in March.
The scars of the pandemic are still apparent. A Quiet Place Part II beat out Cruella last weekend and is poised to repeat over The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It this weekend primarily because both of those demonstrably more popular movies had same-day streaming releases. A Quiet Place will itself hit Paramount+ after just 45 days, half of the traditional 90-day window of theatrical exclusivity that was inviolable for decades. More theater-exclusive content will join it imminently.