Film Review: A Quiet Place: Day One


A Quiet Place: Day One
Director: Michael Sarnoski
Platinum Dunes and Sunday Night Productions
In Theaters 06.28

There’s a reason why there are so few genuinely good prequels. The story is limited in where it can go without contradicting the next film, and the only potential for surprises comes in revealing a backstory, which often takes away too much of the mystique of the original. A Quiet Place: Day One manages to avoid the latter trap by not even trying to give us anything new.

Sam (Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years A Slave, Us) is a terminally ill woman unhappily living in a hospice center in New York City. In group sessions, Sam participates only because the nurse,  Reuben (Alex Wolff, Hereditary, Jumanji: Welcome to The Jungle), pushes her to do so. Intent on breaking through to her,  Reuben talks Sam into joining the group for an outing to the city for an afternoon show. Sam has two conditions for going: she gets to bring her cat, Frodo, and they will stop in the city for pizza before coming home. The group is forced to cut the excursion short when Reuben gets a call saying that something is happening in the city, and he needs to get the patients back immediately. As what looks like bright comets begin crashing to earth, monstrous creatures invade the city. After meeting a terrified law student named Eric (Joseph Quinn, Stranger Things, Catherine The Great), Sam tries to look out for him, and learns that people are heading toward the water, as the creatures can’t swim. 

A Quiet Place: Day One is the blockbuster debut of writer-director Michael Sarnoski, who gained notice with the mesmerizing indie feature Pig. While the film is a major let down in terms of offering any larger context to the story—even skipping right over how the humans, in this utter chaos, learned and alerted each other that the creatures are guided only by sound—it’s got plenty of expertly-staged suspense sequences. The tension and jump scares are solidly done, and cinematographer Pat Scola (Pig, We Grown Now) is a master of light and shadow, bringing plenty of atmosphere to the proceedings. Still, no matter how well it’s done, it’s covering the same territory as two other films, just in a different setting. A Quiet Place: Day One makes its mark not in the suspense, but rather in human drama. It’s in touching moments of character interaction that Sarnoski is able to showcase his gifts. 

Djimon Housou (Amistad, Gladiator), who we saw get killed in A Quiet Place: Part II, makes a brief appearance and gets one unforgettable sequence, and Wolff is quite memorable as Reuben. The heart of the film is the interaction between Sam and Joseph, however, and in a mostly silent section where they get to Harlem to find Sam’s favorite pizza place, the movie absolutely soars. Nyong’o and Quinn are terrific actors with substantial chemistry, and their performances are truly sublime. The tenderness of their growing connection plays out with only occasionally whispered dialogue, and is primarily left to be conveyed through physicality and facial expression. There are moments of profound beauty and even joy that showcase what a truly exceptional actor’s director Sarnoski is, and that’s almost enough to make it work… but not quite. I’ll admit that I don’t necessarily need the backstory filled in for this series, but if you’re it going to do so, why make a prequel? Did we really need to see New York City destroyed on screen again?

In the big picture of the story nothing is added, It’s quite literally “same thing, different day.” The movie is also quite heavy and downbeat, even by A Quiet Place standards, because it’s lacking the messages of hope, love and sacrifice that made the original so special. I have to give a spoiler warning here, in order to give a much needed trigger warning: Sam is dealing with rather severe suicidal ideation, and while it’s not portrayed without some degree of sensitivity, I found it to be quite upsetting, especially when you consider that the thrust of these films is in the fight to survive. Sam’s ultimate choice is a predictably bleak one, and I left the movie feeling depressed beyond words.

A Quiet Place: Day One is a cash grab that rises above its own limitations thanks to the extraordinary talents of its director and lead actors. If you’re a big fan of the series, or just of suspense-based horror, it gets the job done. It’s simply another example of the severe limitations of the prequel medium, and it feels as though it mostly exists as filler while franchise creator John Krasinski tries to come up with a story for Part III that will still work after so much time has passed since the second film came out. A Quiet Place: Day One has incredible strengths, yet it has no particular reason to exist. –Patrick Gibbs

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