It will always be a promising moment. As the lights dim slowly while you sit in a movie theater waiting for the film to start, there’s the eager joy of anticipation.
There are some folks who can do without seeing movies in a theater, I’m not one of them. It’s most assuredly part of my DNA.
The other day as I sat under the elaborate domed ceiling of Buffalo’s North Park Theatre, I was returning to something I enjoy doing, which is watching movies on as large a screen as possible in an immersive experience that, except for technological advances, hasn’t changed much in over 100 years. Seats and a silver screen.
I hadn’t seen a film in a theater in 439 days. The last time before Monday, May 24, was Tuesday, March 10, 2020 to attend the press screening of “Wendy,” a lackluster retelling of the Peter Pan saga. Then the world as we knew it ended.
As I look back on this pandemic period, I am astonished by the number 439. I’ve watched upcoming films on DVD via my flat-screen television, on my laptop, and on my iPad. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, fully replaces the theatrical filmgoing experience.
I had been invited by Paramount Pictures to see “A Quiet Place Part II,” which is written and directed by John Krasinski, in advance at a press screening in Manhattan.
I asked if I could see it in Buffalo, and the studio agreed to my request. The North Park, with its classic look, long projection throw, and big screen fit the bill perfectly. Back in the day, movie theaters were often the anchors of neighborhoods, and justifiably so.
I have an old matchbook that was manufactured by the Buffalo-based Basil Theatres to promote its “community” of cinema showplaces, which I bought at a local flea market. Look at the names of these Buffalo picture palaces: Lafayette, Apollo, Victoria, Genesee, Varsity, Strand, Broadway, Roxy, and Jefferson. In suburban Kenmore there was the Colvin. In Niagara Falls, the LaSalle.
Other companies owned scores of theaters with equally vibrant names, such as the Marlowe at Virginia and Tenth streets in Buffalo and owned by an important Buffalo name, John Oishei. There was the Ellen Terry on Grant Street at Potomac Avenue and the Mercury Theatre on Main Street.
The epic-sized 3,024-seat Paramount Theatre, with its balcony and immense single screen, at 612 Main Street, is where, as I’ve written, my mother saw Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” upon its release in the autumn of 1960.
There is a sequence in “A Quiet Place Part II” that, in its own way, recalls Hitchcock’s respect for storytelling and use of technique as a way to unsettle, even destroy an audience’s equilibrium.
In an abandoned radio station, Regan (Millicent Simmonds,), the deaf daughter of Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt) and the deceased Lee Abbott (Krasinski), is desperately trying to use her cochlear implant device and sound waves to harass the creatures that have possibly destroyed much of the United States. The monsters feed on loud sounds. It attracts their murderous attention. Simmonds is a deaf actress.
At the exact same time, Evelyn is battling creatures in an abandoned steel mill. Director Krasinski brilliantly crosscuts between the two deadly engagements against hell on Earth. The extended sequence is as superbly designed and as tensely unnerving as anything I’ve seen in a movie. Krasinski’s film editor is Michael P. Shawver.
We get to this point in the film because Krasinski, who also wrote the screenplay and plays Lee briefly in a short, smart, and action-packed prologue, has detailed the arrival of the deadly insect-like aliens from outer space while a Little League game is being played in a bucolic village. We then jump to Day 474.
Evelyn, her newborn baby, her young son Marcus (Noah Jupe), and Regan are walking through fields and along railroad tracks trying to discover if anyone has survived the end of the world as they knew it.
They encounter Emmett (Cillian Murphy), a former friend in that steel mill where he has managed to survive the onslaught. He gives them refuge, although Evelyn believes the search must continue for people. An expository scene here lacks the necessary power because Blunt and Murphy literally do whisper, and the sound clarity isn’t as sharp as it should have been.
The story proceeds mostly in dramatic silence, although there are certainly some excellent jolts along the way to the watery shore of an isolated community. I was surprised that the residents of this group of cabins talked loudly. There’s even laughter and a bonfire. The aliens had seemed all-powerful. Djimon Hounsou plays a cabin owner willing to help.
The settings are perfectly chosen. They are not attributed to a specific locale, but rather are used as visual characters in this terror-laced story. The Buffalo-Niagara region, where most of the filming took place, acquits itself well.
The acting by all throughout the film is superb. Blunt is flawless as the haggard, anguished, and protective mom, who will rage against the machine. Jupe is exceptional as he deals with a horrifying injury and delivers sweet comforting of the baby.
Simmonds is magnificent. We have a deaf heroine, and she hits her stress-filled role out of the park. Simmonds more than deserves an Academy Award nomination.
“A Quiet Place Part II” is playing only in theaters. If your choice is to return to going out for a movie, then this is the film with which to start.
Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette and the CNHI news network. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org