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  • Writer's pictureSaxon Whitehead

'A Quiet Place: Day One': A Thrilling, Surprisingly Human Horror Prequel

With the latest film in the A Quiet Place film series, A Quiet Place: Day One, we divert from the main storyline established with the previous two films, and follow a new story within the franchise’s universe. Spin-off films can be risky, especially when what it is spinning off from has proven to be successful. The first two Quiet Place movies were box office hits, and were received rather well by critics and audiences. So in making a prequel with a new director, new characters, and set in a new location, it is a bit questionable whether Day One will continue the strong track record the series has had. But with a capable director like Michael Sarnoski, a great cast, and New York City as its setting, A Quiet Place: Day One adapts to its changes very well, and delivers a surprisingly fresh entry in the franchise. It uses elements from the first two as a solid foundation, but builds off of it to tell a more emotional, human story than one might expect. It makes for a solid summer blockbuster, and takes the series to interesting new heights.

Samira (Lupita Nyong’o) is on a day trip in New York City, when suddenly mysterious meteor-like objects begin to fall from the sky. These objects are soon discovered to be extraterrestrial creatures with an acute sense of hearing that are attracted to the slightest sound. They begin attacking people, leading Samira and her service cat, Frodo, to remain silent as they struggle to survive. Along the way, they meet Eric (Joseph Quinn), a law student from England who joins their journey. Samira and Eric must make their way through the city to find safety and try to evade the creatures, all while being as quiet as possible. 

I was skeptical going into this film, as I found the previous entry in the series, A Quiet Place Part II very disappointing, but I absolutely loved director Michael Sarnoski’s last film, Pig. Thankfully, the film has much more in common with the latter, as it is a somewhat soulful tale of survival wrapped in the traps and trimmings of a horror film. Day One ends up feeling more like its own thing, as it uses the basic premise of the last two films as more of a jumping off point, as opposed to having this film feel like more of the same. It allows the film to form its own identity, and helps the audience connect with the two main characters better. 

Much like Pig, Michael Sarnoski injects more heart into his direction than one would expect, but never overdoes it. He knows when to lean into the emotionality of the characters and when to ease off, and seems to have a firm grasp on genre elements as well. While Pig is more of a straightforward drama, there are thriller elements that he uses exceptionally well. Obviously, A Quiet Place: Day One is more of a horror film on its face, but Sarnoski takes the things he did well with Pig in terms of establishing tension and creating a distinct atmosphere and adapts them very well to the world of the Quiet Place series. But beyond that, Sarnoski shows that he is quite adept when it comes to big setpieces. There are plenty of explosions, people getting swooped up by creatures, and chase sequences, all of which are captured thrillingly in the film. The initial invasion sequence is handled very well, allowing the sounds of people being attacked to be the dominant feature of it considering that the action largely takes place in thick clouds of smoke and ash. The later sequences are much more visible, showing Sarnoski’s eye for action a bit better, but across the board, each sequence is exciting, and the danger the characters are experiencing is greatly felt. 

One of the things I appreciate the most about Sarnoski’s direction is how he allows the film to breathe and feel more natural. The film operates in waves, alternating between intense sequences of the creatures attacking and calmer scenes of the characters simply interacting and learning more about each other. He establishes this from the outset, as the first ten minutes or so is devoted to creating a sense of normal and introducing us to Lupita Nyong’o’s character, Samira. There is a deliberate slowness to this, as we see how she lives her life and find out key details about her during this. But it is what Sarnoski does next that really stood out to me. There are two specific moments where we just linger for a bit and take in everything around us. The first of these is when Samira is on a bus going into New York City, and the second is when she is standing in the middle of the city itself. These moments are a few minutes apart in the film, but serve a similar purpose. As we take in the sights of New York, the film’s score comes in and has a relaxing, beautiful quality to it. We truly see the city through Samira’s eyes, and find the beauty within it. Shortly after that second moment is when the invasion happens, shifting the entire film’s dynamic. The general vibe is more tense and fearful, but these moments of calmness do return sporadically throughout the film. These moments are often small, with the exception of one extended sequence late in the film, but they carry a lot of weight in the context of the story. These smaller moments cut straight to the humanity of its characters and the story being told, and makes the film feel like more than just a standard horror film. 

Lupita Nyong’o has proven herself time and again to be one of our most talented actors currently working, and her work in this film is no exception. Her turn as Samira puts her in full movie star mode, but fully embodies the character so fully, much like she has in her previous roles. Nyong’o has a gift for pinpointing the smallest details in the characters she plays and brings them to the surface so naturally. The character of Samira could have easily been played broadly, but in Nyong’o’s hands, she comes to life stunningly. I was extremely curious to see how she’d pair with Joseph Quinn, best known for his role as Eddie Munson in the fourth season of Stranger Things. On that show, Quinn plays a very high energy character, but as Eric in Day One, he takes on a more reserved role. Eric is more timid and wide-eyed, and Quinn brings a lost puppy quality to him that makes him rather endearing, especially in the character’s early scenes. Quinn sometimes pales a little in comparison to Nyong’o, but he is still quite good in the role. He is much more tightly wound, but the moments where he relaxes ever so slightly gives him the opportunity to do some interesting things. The two are a really good pair, and the kinship between them further strengthens the heart at the film’s core. It’s fair to say that Djimon Hounsou is only in this so that way there’s more connective tissue between this film and the first two entries outside of the basic premise. That said, I will never complain about Hounsou showing up in anything. His role is essentially a glorified cameo spread over three scenes, but Hounsou makes the best of it. There is a scene shortly after the big invasion that showcases his expressiveness and impressive screen presence so well, and reminds the viewer just how talented he is. In fact, all of the film’s primary actors are so expressive, and are great fits here considering that there are large stretches of the film without dialogue. Not to mention that the film also boasts good animal performances by Nico and Schnitzel, the two cats that play Samira’s companion, Frodo. Suffice to say, the cast all around is quite solid, especially Nyong’o and Quinn, who carry so much of the film. 

Much like another horror prequel that came out this year, The First Omen, this film does falter when we are reminded that it is part of a larger franchise. For The First Omen, the connections between that film and the rest of the series is clumsily executed, but makes sense in the grand scheme of things. A Quiet Place: Day One has more of the opposite effect, as most of the connections are baked into the film itself, but they do make you think about iffy the logic of the film itself is. One of the more frustrating things about the Quiet Place movies as a whole is that they never seem to answer any questions about the creatures or nail down too many rules of the universe. While normally I wouldn’t complain much about this, as some franchises are too beholden to rules and logic as opposed to being pure entertainment, but with this being the third installment of the series, one would think that something more concrete would be put in place by now. We still know surprisingly little about the creatures and where they came from, and there isn’t much we know how to survive against them aside from being quiet. The film doesn’t add much more to what we know about them, leaving them feeling kind of stagnant. Thankfully, the film focuses more on the human characters and their dynamic to where it doesn’t tank the film too much, but it is still a bit frustrating. I’m not saying that the film needs to spoon feed everything about the world of the film or the creatures to the audience, but since we are three films in, it would be nice to have some further development in this regard. 

A Quiet Place: Day One is a major step up from the last film in the series, and might be its best entry to date. Michael Sarnoski’s direction is so assured and his focus on the humanity at the core of the film truly adds to its strengths. It is a solid summer blockbuster with good action, thrilling sequences, and a larger heart than I could have ever guessed. My expectations for this film were practically in the basement, but I was very impressed by so much of this film. It isn’t perfect by any stretch, but it is a good work of genre filmmaking from one of our most promising new directors and features a pair of great lead performances from Lupita Nyong’o and Joseph Quinn. This film truly surprised me, and it just might be one of the biggest highlights of this year’s summer movie season.

Rating: 4/5

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