Instead of aliens in 'A Quiet Place' and its sequel, John Krasinski ponders a world where imaginary friends are real in this warmly whimsical family-friendly fantasy.
Sarah Ward
Published on May 16, 2024


Imaginary friends should be seen, but people trying to survive an alien invasion should not be heard. So goes John Krasinski's recent flicks as a filmmaker. While IF, The Office star's fifth feature behind the lens, has nothing to do with 2018 horror hit A Quiet Place or its 2020 sequel A Quiet Place Part II, the three movies share a focus on the senses and their importance in forming bonds. When Krasinski's two post-apocalyptic hits forced humanity into silence for survival, they contemplated what it meant to be perceived — or not — as a basic element of human connection amid the bumps, jumps and tale of a family attempting to endure. With IF, the writer/director also ponders existence and absence. It skews younger, though, and also more whimsical, for a family-friendly story about a girl assisting made-up mates that are yearning Toy Story-style to have flesh-and-blood pals again.

The horror genre still lingers over IF, however. It doesn't haunt in tone, because this isn't 2024's fellow release Imaginary; rather, it's a sentimental fantasy-adventure film, enthusiastically so. But from the moment that the movie's narrative introduces its IFs, as the picture dubs imaginary friends, it's easy to spot Krasinski's inspiration. In New York staying with her grandmother Margaret (Fiona Shaw, True Detective: Night Country) while her dad (Krasinski, Jack Ryan) is having heart surgery, 12-year-old Bea (Cailey Fleming, The Walking Dead) starts seeing pretend creatures. She then has a task: reuniting critters such as Blue (Steve Carell, Asteroid City), the purple-hued furry monster that, alongside Minnie Mouse-meets-butterfly Blossom (Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny), is one of the first IFs that she spots, with the now-adults that conjured them up as children.

Only Cal (Ryan Reynolds, Ghosted), who lives upstairs from Bea's nan, can also glimpse Blue, Blossom and the like. And although his past plans to aid the IFs in finding new kid buddies to get over their old ones haven't been successful, he's still along for the ride — somewhat reluctantly and crankily — as Bea spends the days that her dad is in hospital distracting herself with her new job. Krasinski mightn't have yet directed a film that hails from existing material, not here, in either A Quiet Place entry, his 2009 debut Brief Interviews with Hideous Men or in 2016's The Hollars, but he slips IF into familiar all-ages terrain. Take a kid or kids, whisk them off into a fanciful space either away from or that reframes their own world, then surround them with anything but the ordinary and everyday: everything from Mary Poppins and Labyrinth to Jumanji and also Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away has imagined it as well.

A giant heart beats and a waterfall of sincerity flows in IF's exploration of how loneliness, pain, uncertainty and anxiety can dance away through companionship, and also through truly seeing someone and being seen. That's what it means to spot imaginary friends, after all, with children conjuring themselves up a pal that's always by their side unconditionally no matter what life throws their way at a young age. We might grow out of playing make believe to enjoy the company of a BFF, but no one moves past needing to be recognised and appreciated, and hurting if they aren't. Someone who certainly hasn't: a pre-teen who insists to her happy-go-lucky father that she's too old now for goofy pranks and spinning stories, and to her grandma that colouring in and painting aren't age-appropriate hobbies, as she grapples with her remaining parent's health after losing her mother (Catharine Daddario, The Tomorrow Job) in the movie's opening montage.

Sweet almost to the point of corniness, patently unafraid of symbolism and giving all of the effort that it can, IF isn't a subtle film, including in deploying a glow from cinematographer Janusz Kamiński (The Fabelmans, and also Steven Spielberg's go-to since Schindler's List) in its retro aesthetic and heartstring-tugging melodies from composer Michael Giacchino (Next Goal Wins, and also Pixar's Inside Out, Coco and Lightyear) in its score as it takes its audience along with Bea's emotional journey. (Also obvious, and not just from Kamiński and Giacchino's involvement: the Spielberg and Pixar influences). But it's all so eagerly and unashamedly earnest, and so carefully constructed, that the movie itself resembles a kid with an imaginary friend — making viewers believe in it because it believes with such unwavering and wholehearted dedication.

It helps that the various IFs bounding through the picture's frames look not only imaginative, but like the product of real imaginations, spanning bears, marshmallows, unicorns, spacemen, cubes of ice in glasses of water and more. Blue, all plush and tactile (and, yes, likely destined for the merchandise treatment), isn't the only imaginary friend that could've stepped out of a toy box. On voice duties, the cast is a look-who-I-can-call roster on Krasinski's part — see: Emily Blunt (The Fall Guy), George Clooney (Ticket to Paradise), Bradley Cooper (Maestro), Matt Damon (Drive-Away Dolls), Awkwafina (Kung Fu Panda 4), Bill Hader (Barry), Keegan-Michael Key (Wonka), Blake Lively (The Rhythm Section), Sam Rockwell (Argylle) and Maya Rudolph (Loot), for starters — yet IF doesn't enlist such a starry list of names for just-showing-up turns, getting both depth and laughs from the who's who lineup.

With the impressive Fleming at its centre, a playful showpiece sequence arrives midway through the movie, with Bea guided to the IF retirement home beneath Coney Island. Here, imaginary friends endeavour to cope with life without their tykes, but Bea reshapes their space using (what else?) the power of imagination. Flourishes such as singing with the late, great Tina Turner and plunging into a painting only to come out all splattered with its hues are splendid touches (endearing as well), each alive with the spirit of childlike wonder that Krasinski so keenly wants to capture. One harking back to tunes with and cherished moments of significance to Bea, the other making the act of diving into creativity literal, they're sensory touches, too — because Krasinski knows that if we're not open to experiencing as much as we truly can, and connecting through it, we're not truly living. 


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