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A Quiet Place: Day One (15)

Director: Michael Sarnoski
Screenplay: Michael Sarnoski, John Krasinski, Bryan Woods

Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Joseph Quinn, Alex Wolff

Running time: 100 minutes

Cinema release

Review: David Stephens

It looks like “going back” is the new… err… “going forward”. After all, the critically-loved Pearl and Saw X both became genre hits by delving into the backstory and the lost years of their main characters, why shouldn’t the pants-browning Death Angels get the same treatment? They’ve taken over the planet (apparently) by the time of the original A Quiet Place, tangling with the resourceful Abbott family. They continue to be the dominant species in A Quiet Place: Part Two, but we get a sneaky peek at their arrival in the film’s prologue. Continuing with that notion, A Quiet Place: Day One swerves the ongoing adventures of the enterprising Abbotts and instead swings the calendar back to invasion day from the perspective of the Big Apple. It’s a brave move in some respects, as it abandons existing characters (with one exception) in favour of brand-new locations, situations, and personalities. A concern raised by some at the time of production is that it’s not directed by John Krasinski but by Michael Sarnoski who made “Pig” (2021). However Pig contains one of the best performances given by Nic Cage in recent years, and this was one of the reasons why Krasinski approached him to collaborate on this project. It stars modern scream-queen Lupita Nyong’o (Little Monsters, Us), and, no, she doesn’t mind being called that, as she admitted in a recent interview with Variety that she was becoming more attracted to horror film roles, as “…there is a heightened nature to horror that makes for a really interesting character to explore.” Yay! That aside, let’s keep the noise down and start the day off.


It's a normal day in New York City and retired poet/writer Samira (Nyong’o) is undergoing long-term medical treatment, which really pisses her off. Better known as “Sam”, she endures well-meaning efforts by the staff with a scowl and only really shows affection for her service cat Frodo (co-played by Nico and Schnitzel… look, they’re bloody good in the role and deserve a credit). Only agreeing to an afternoon outing so that she can pick up some NY pizza, she finds herself caught up in the apocalyptic arrival of the Death Angels. Piggy-backing on meteors, despite the best efforts of the authorities, the city is decimated in merely an afternoon. Sam is a survivor though, and for various reasons, she decides to tiptoe through the rubble and get to her old digs in Harlem. Along the way, she and Frodo encounter Eric (Joseph Quinn, Eddie Munson from “Stranger Things”!), who’s a British law student in a state of shock. They eventually form a friendship and look for a way to survive.


There’s a further detail to Sam’s character that could be mentioned there, but you’re better off not knowing that, as it may lead you to have expectations one way or another, despite most reviews and features giving it away. However, know that this is genuinely good, satisfying, quality stuff. It’s still hard to quantify that this franchise remains in PG-13 territory (15 in the UK). Not because of any blood or gore, there’s still none of that. But likeable and innocent people still get mercilessly killed in rushed attacks by the creatures, even if we don’t generally see the aftermath. Critical from a genre perspective, the Death Angels (BTW: they’re still never called that officially by anyone, and it was only glimpsed in the news headline from the first film, but what you gonna do?) remain bloody scary. Although their visual appearance is no longer a surprise, their penchant for slaughter is played out for bouts of grim tension, as every squeak, tap, or sneeze could herald mass casualties.


Bearing in mind that a bustling city of thousands presents a new sandpit to play with, rather than the backwoods of the previous films, this opportunity is not lost in the narrative. In fact, some opening text informs us that NYC on average has a constant volume of background noise equivalent to 90 decibels, allegedly the same as a human scream. Not for much longer! The plot doesn’t mess around with exposition. New Yorkers cotton onto the fact that they need to shut the hell up pretty quickly! This sets up some pleasingly suspenseful sequences that are squeezed tight for maximum effect. The opening salvo echoes other big city disasters (both real and cinematic) and the underwater subway scene is fantastic in its pacing, Perhaps best of all is the silent exodus scene, which sees a gradually growing mass of city folk congregating towards the harbour, all taking the greatest of care to remain quiet. However, it’s only a matter of time before unavoidable noise inevitably attracts the prowling creatures and chaos descends.


This wouldn’t necessarily work so well if Nyong’o and Quinn weren’t so good in their parts. Sam is different to the confrontational and reactive roles that the actress has played before, but there’s a lovely depth to the character that she brings out, especially with her (mostly dialogue-free) interactions that she has with the rest of the cast. In any other film, Eric might be written as a bit of an entitled douche-bag who sacrifices others to stay alive, but Quinn and Sarnoski show him as a thoroughly likeable and decent guy who connects with Sam, even if he does start out as a bit gormless and needy. No wonder Frodo takes a liking to him. Ah, yes, Frodo. This tuxedo furball is the best post-apocalyptic cuddle-buddy since Sam the dog from I am Legend. Occasionally leading characters into trouble, otherwise, this feline is solid gold and deserves some kind of horror-thriller-animal-companion award. Or something. Endearingly, the director said that the “character” was always going to be a cat, as a dog would be too “barky” and less likely to keep schtum during an alien invasion.


But it’s not just the different characters and locations that make AQP:D1 stand sideways of the other films. There’s a more sombre and sentimental mood that runs through the narrative. The awareness of mortality and the basic instinct to show kindness to others is at the forefront of the plot, perhaps more so than in its predecessors. Showing the “dead” city and exploding bridges (not to mention dozens of Angels scrabbling across the rooftops and stalking boats along the shore) induces a suburban chill that matches the similar scenes of a desolated London in 28 Days Later. At certain points, these emotional beats do tip towards Disney-Pixar levels of manipulation, but they kind of need to do that, otherwise, things would be gut-punchingly depressive by the time you got to the end. Which thankfully it isn’t. Gotta have some hope mixed in there with the dead bodies and demolished buildings.  


Even with the darker and psychological side of the tale, the suspense is still there. Very much so. During some of the escape and chase sequences, you’ll find yourself holding a breath without knowing it or raking fingernails into the arms of the cinema seat. And there are very few franchise films that can do that three films in. Those sneaky extraterrestrial bastards still know when to rear up or drop from the ceiling to nail a jump scare! Is it better than Parts 1 and 2? Well, maybe not better, and there’s a different tone in general. But it’s still a great sci-fi horror and shows that much can still be done with the franchise. We know that there will be another (possibly final) entry to come from Krasinski in 2025/26. But in the meantime, make a noise about this gem of a prequel.  

There’s a slightly different tone to the film when compared to its predecessors, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t still amazingly tense or gloriously watchable. Sombre at times and scary at others, this is still stripped down and superior studio horror. With good performances and cool FX, there’s life in the franchise yet. And don’t forget Frodo!   
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