A Quiet Place: Day One

The always-excellent Lupita Nyong'o and 'Pig' writer/director Michael Sarnoski take this hit horror franchise back to the alien invasion's beginning in a thoughtful Big Apple-set spinoff.
Sarah Ward
Published on June 27, 2024


There seems little that could be utopian about an alien invasion film where people are picked off by hulking, spider-limbed, lightning-fast, armour-clad creatures who punish every sound with almost-instant death, but prequel A Quiet Place: Day One makes the opening status quo of horror franchise-starter A Quiet Place look positively idyllic. If you're forced to try to survive an extra-terrestrial attack, where better to be than at your well-appointed farmland home with your family, as the John Krasinski (IF)-helmed and -starring 2018 feature depicted? Most folks, including the third movie in the saga's protagonist Samira (Lupita Nyong'o, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever), a terminal cancer patient with just a service cat called Frodo left as kin, can only dream of being that lucky — not that there's much time for fantasising about a better way to be conquered by otherworldly monsters when what looks like meteors start crashing down to earth.

Samira is in hospice care as the A Quiet Place big-screen series, which also spans 2021 release A Quiet Place Part II, steps back to the moment that its apocalyptic scenario begins in New York. She hugs her black-and-white feline companion like letting go would untether her from life even before existence as the planet knows it changes forever — when she's sharing surly poems among other patients, being convinced to attend a group excursion to see a marionette show and, when the promise of pizza on the way home is nixed, telling kindly nurse Reuben (Alex Wolff, Oppenheimer) that he's not actually her friend. A Quiet Place: Day One explores the ground-zero experience for someone who feels so alone in this world and connected only to her devoted pet, and also answers a question: how do those on more than two feet react when the worst that humans can imagine occurs?

It might've appeared a significant change of pace when Pig filmmaker Michael Sarnoski was announced as A Quiet Place: Day One's writer and director, a role he took on after The Bikeriders' Jeff Nichols — who, with Take Shelter, Mud and Midnight Special on his resume, had played with visions of the end of the world, science fiction and adventurous quests before — dropped out. But swap in Nyong'o for Nicolas Cage, a cat for a porcine pal and aliens for a kidnapping, and Sarnoski has moulded the terrain of his second feature to pair perfectly with his first. Wolff further links the helmer's two movies together; however, they'd prove a set without him. When the only other critter that defines your days and spends its own by your side is in peril — your one constant in a life already under the shadow of loss, too — the fierceness with which you'd react is the same whether vengeance or safety is your ultimate aim.

Samira has another mission: securing that yearned-for slice in Harlem, which she's willing to navigate the chaotic streets with the utmost of hush to endeavour to taste. Sarnoski again deeply understands what our bonds with animals, places and things can say about us; why we cling to and fight for them unflinchingly and against the odds; and how devastating it can be when what little that a person has left is under threat. Accordingly, committing to hunt down a favourite piece of pizza while bedlam breaks out isn't just about enjoying an Italian meal. As with Pig, casting enormously aids the process of taking viewers on this emotional and psychological journey. Cage gave one of his finest performances in a career filled with versatile wonders as a truffle-foraging ex-Portland chef whose tentative sense of stability and self were shattered sans swine, and fellow Oscar-winner Nyong'o, ten years on from clutching Hollywood's most-coveted trophy for 12 Years a Slave, is equally as gripping.

Sarnoski's current star is no stranger to horror, or to being excellent in it. See: Nyong'o's unforgettable effort in 2019, just past the midway point between 12 Years a Slave and A Quiet Place: Day One, in Jordan Peele's haunting and razor-sharp Us. Conveying the piercingly melancholy feeling of fighting what's long been a fraught fray for yourself, but holding up the battle for what you hold dearest, isn't an easy feat in her latest role — and nor is doing so when terror on multiple levels never subsides. It's also the heart and soul of the movie, which continues the franchise trademark of valuing characters over bumps and jumps, even as it still delivers the latter. Nyong'o wears Samira's determination despite several hazards to her mortality as assuredly as the fentanyl patches that get her character through the day, and the red beanie and yellow cardigan that are Samira's uniform.

Knocked out amid the Big Apple erupting in mayhem, noise and white dust — any racket, of course, being the most-fatal thing for everyone desperate to avoid extinction — A Quiet Place: Day One's lead figure first wakes up in the puppet theatre, and she isn't solo. All things A Quiet Place have established in prior flicks how fleeting and fragile any calm and refuge can be, even in the best-case setup of the OG movie's Abbott clan, so it's no surprise when tragedy keeps thundering in. Via Djimon Hounsou's (Rebel Moon) Henri, though, the film gets a direct tie to A Quiet Place Part II and hope that some kind of future beckons. Courtesy of Joseph Quinn's (Stranger Things) English law student Eric, who also gives the picture another opportunity to demonstrate the comforting power of befriending a mouser, Samira's ordeal receives a new chance at human connection. And with its scene-stealing kitty, who is played by 100-percent real the real thing and is wonderful, cinema gains a complement to Alien's Jonsey.

Collaborating again with cinematographer Pat Scola (We Grown Now) after Pig, Sarnoski has switched areas of America, yet there's no less of a lived-in texture to A Quiet Place: Day One's look and feel. That's another not-at-all-small achievement in a successful sci-fi/horror saga — one that has briefly jumped back to attack day in the past, in fact — that's set in a city that virtually everyone around the has globe has walked through via the silver screen almost as much as their own locations IRL. Meaningful wins when far less could've resulted sums up the film again and again, from a story co-conjured with Krasinski that does far more than merely extend a hit realm to the exactingly executed creature-feature sequences and the meticulous sound design that a tale predicated upon silence demands. Movies about attempting to endure can also be movies about finding your own idea of utopia in the absolute direst of circumstances, no matter how short-lived, and this one hears the call loudly.


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