Home Leisure & Sports A Quiet Place: Day One (***1/2)

A Quiet Place: Day One (***1/2)

(l-r) Lupita Nyong’o and Djimon Hounsou in A Quiet Place: Day One.

“You need to stop following me,” says a woman who is as terrified of the beasts as anyone else. “I’m really scared, I don’t know what to do,” confesses a man as he trembles and follows her like a scared toddler. 

There was a certain magic in A Quiet Place (2018) and A Quiet Place Part II (2021), the first two films in this franchise (box office total $640M). Writer/director/producer/actor John Krasinski built an engaging storyline around a believable and bewildered family being hounded by deadly weird alien invaders. Beasts who were ultrasensitive to sound, and had destroyed many, leaving only a few survivors in certain outposts. How do you follow that up? With a compelling prequel by writer/director Michael Sarnoski (Pig), who’s making only his second feature film. It’s a gamble, a smart gamble. Sarnoski brings his own voice and vision to the trilogy. 

The final stages of cancer have put Samira (Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years A Slave), a.k.a., Sam, in a hospice care home. She’s the feisty one in her therapy group, often butting heads with the group’s leader, a nurse named Ruben (Alex Wolff). It’s a great surprise the day Ruben suggests they all go into New York City to see a show. He only gets Samira to comply after promising her she can get real pizza, her heart’s desire—not the dreck they serve at the home. Of course, as always, she brings her ever present support cat, Frodo, on the excursion. 

They board a yellow bus, go into Gotham and the show at a theater is less than Sam had imagined. As Ruben herds the group onto the bus to head home, Samira brings up his pizza promise. Before the two can go to war over a slice with pepperoni and cheese, objects start to drop from the sky. They rain down on the streets like cluster bombs during a war invasion. People are swept away by alien creatures, who track their victims by sound. The city is in total bedlam. Buildings fall, cars crash, ashes are everywhere. People run for cover. It’s like a war zone—like 9/11. Samira, Ruben and others hide. A man named Henri (Djimon Hounsou, A Quiet Place, part II) shepherds the dazed and weary who huddle together. Soon Samira is on her own, followed by a desperate stranger, a law student named Eric (Joseph Quinn, Stranger Things). He’s in a greater state of shock than she. 

What a way to start a movie. The tense script, with less and less dialogue, lets the visuals and audio track do the heavy lifting. Viewers will learn about Samira’s health concerns, the aliens’ vulnerabilities, escape plans, acts of generosity and sacrifices—but not just because the three-dimensional characters say what they’re thinking and feeling. It’s more because the audience sees what they’re doing, experiencing and trying to escape. Perceptive viewers will deduce what comes next and why. This kind of thoughtful screenwriting respects viewers’ intelligence and ability to discern and feel. There are no lengthy scenes burdened with exposition, and no long-winded conversations.

After a cursory introduction to the lead characters, the film starts with a bang—much like the horror/sci-fi classic 28 Days Later. Throw the protagonists into the deep end, force them to swim on their own and survive. Scenes with creatures falling from the sky are fascinating (cinematographer Pat Scola, Pig). Those visions spawn an initial amazement that escalates into abject fear, terror and a dread that doesn’t subside. Disaster and death are around every corner. Hostile, deadly extraterrestrials are scanning and lurking. Don’t talk. Don’t make a noise—or else. 

What the visual effects can’t convey in terms of danger (the aliens are ugly, but not the worst you’ve ever seen) the sound effects deliver in abundance. In fact, thunderous noises, eerie vibrations and screams wear on your nerves—so effectively, there’s no point in closing your eyes. You can’t escape the carnage unless you cover your ears too. For 100 minutes solid, you’re caught up in this drama/horror/sci-fi nightmare with no way out. There isn’t wall-to-wall violence. There’s wall-to-wall expectations of it, and that’s even more chilling. 

Credit Sarnoski’s intuitive direction for keeping the mayhem at a fever pitch and the editing team of Andrew Mondshein and Gregory Plotkin for the precision cuts. There are only a few lapses where the pace breaks a bit longer than it should. One is a scene in an apartment that is too long of an escape from the hell outside. Astute movie goers can tell some scenes were shot on a real street, and others on a back lot. Interiors of office buildings, living rooms in homes, bombed out street scenes with debris, small Harlem stores (production designer Simon Bowles) catch the eye. You may detect the difference of what’s real and what’s fake, but you’re too caught up in the story to care. This ordeal feels real, so the emotions it builds overshadow any seams. 

Nyong’o pulls you into Sam’s plight and being with her feisty nature, vulnerability, persistence and courageousness. You hope for the best, expect the worse and are attached to her as she becomes as threadbare as the mustard-colored cardigan sweater she wears (costume designer Bex Crofton-Atkins). That’s because Nyong’o never overacts. Instead, her Samira touches your soul in the most subtle but deep ways. Sam isn’t a super hero, more a normal person thrown in into a hero’s shoes. The camera loves her eyes, nose, mouth, skin color and shape of her head. She’s extremely photogenic. 

Paramount Pictures via Youtube

Quinn gets thrown into the same deep water. Playing a man in need of assistance is not easy to achieve. But he masters this complexity. Wolf and Hounsou are equally supportive to the lead character. The most astonishing member of the remaining cast is the cat who displays a loyalty usually reserved for dogs in movies. Not sure how handlers got this feline to do what it does; don’t ask; don’t tell. It works.   

Horror film fans just in it for the thrills, get what they want. Adults wanting more than a shallow genre movie will be satiated too. The directing and acting do justice to the script and consequently to the third edition of what will likely be an enduring storyline. 

The terror on view is enough to make grown men, who’re looking for an escape, follow a woman whose survival instincts are stronger than theirs. Lupita Nyong’s Samira is that savior. Haunting images of her face in the film’s final moments display a spirit sent to save wretches. She’s the one.

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