A Quiet Place: Day One Review: The Best Movie In The Series


Well, I wasn't expecting this. I enjoyed John Krasinski's first two "A Quiet Place" movies, particularly the first one, which was both a story of grief and a fun little monster movie with a neat hook: aliens who are extra-sensitive to sound have invaded earth and killed off a bunch of people, so the survivors have to stay very, very quiet. These movies didn't exactly reinvent the wheel, but they paid homage to the work of Spielberg and even George A. Romero and mostly got the job done (although I'll admit most of the events of the sequel have slipped my mind even though I saw it when it hit theaters).

Now, we have "A Quiet Place: A Day One," which is not only the third entry in this franchise but also a prequel. That gives one pause. Third films are notoriously difficult to pull off, and prequels can often be little more than fast, cheap cash-grabs; a lazy approach to keep the box office dollars flowing when everyone has run out of new ideas. But that's not what" A Quiet Place: Day One" is, oh no. For this entry, Krasinski has handed the reins over to writer-director Michael Sarnoski, who helmed the wonderful, surprising Nicolas Cage movie "Pig." And here's the thing: Michael Sarnoski is a better filmmaker than John Krasinski. 

I'm not here to bury Krasinski — I think he's capable enough as a director, but Sarnoski has a firmer grip on this material. A steadier hand. The end result is one of the most surprising films of the summer — a beautiful, meditative character-based drama that occasionally reminds you it's also a monster movie. I'm genuinely curious to see how Sarnoski's approach goes over to a larger crowd (for what it's worth, the audience at my screening ate this film up, clapping on multiple occasions). Anyone going into "Day One" expect a cheesy monster movie with simple chills and thrills might be shocked at how, well, quiet it all is. Yes, there are action scenes; scenes where those nasty long-limbed aliens attack. But it's clear that's not what Sarnoski is interested in. He's interested in the moments in between. And those are the moments that really sing. 

A Quiet Place: Day One takes us back to the beginning

As the title implies, "A Quiet Place: Day One" takes us back to the beginning — the first day of the alien invasion. Sarnoski wisely understands that this doesn't mean we need a ton of backstory; we don't learn more about the aliens, or where they come from, or even their motivations. Like a bolt from the blue, or a terrorist attack, they simply arrive one day and death and destruction follows

Our guide through this is Sam (Lupita Nyong'o), a young woman with a very good cat named Frodo (seriously, if there was an Oscar for cats, this feline would win). Sam is in New York City when the aliens attack, and Sarnoski wastes no time. After a very brief intro that tells us exactly what we need to know about Sam and her situation (I'm being vague here to avoid any major spoilers), all hell breaks loose. Explosions follow, dust and smoke fill the air, and people are pulled off to their deaths by hideous monsters. Sam is knocked unconscious and wakes up later in a theater, where she's informed by a helpful man (Djimon Hounsou, briefly reprising his role from the second film) to stay quiet. Sam gets it right away: noise attracts the aliens. 

Here, Sarnoski and cinematographer Pat Scola give us one of the first of many arresting images: an entire theater of people trying to stay extremely quiet (if only modern movie theaters were like this, am I right, folks?!). Sarnoski, working with Scola, has an incredible eye for staging little moments that pop, and "Day One" is full of lingering shots of a world suddenly ground to a silent halt. We've seen plenty of post-apocalyptic imagery in movies and TV before, so it's not exactly fresh, but Sarnoski manages to make it seem both vivid and haunting here — books scattered by a bookstore, probably never to be read again; silhouettes of people watching bridges toppling; blood splattered on car doors; a flooded subway; two characters kneeling in front of a fire burning from an open manhole. These quiet little moments stun and invoke a city in ruin. One shot of dazed New Yorkers wandering in a mass group through a dusty street will no doubt remind some of images from 9/11, making these scenes of quiet horror painfully familiar. 

A Quiet Place: Day One is the best movie in the series

While most of the survivors are trying to make their way to a seaport to get on an evacuation boat — the aliens can't swim — Sam decides to go to Harlem for her own personal reasons — including wanting to grab a slice of pizza. That might sound silly, but be honest: you want pizza right now, don't you? During her journey, Frodo the cat in tow, Sam encounters Eric (Joseph Quinn), and this is when the movie really comes to life. Sam wants to be left alone at first, but Eric keeps following her like a sad puppy (or a stalker, if you want to be cynical about it). Eventually, the two begin to bond. There's a wonderful moment where Sam and Eric take shelter in Sam's apartment during a thunderstorm. They read poetry in the dark, and when the thunder booms, they both let out primal, anguished cries, furious and hurt at what they've both gone through. 

And then they move through empty New York, growing closer in quiet little moments. At times, it even feels like Sarnoski is trying to channel Richard Linklater's "Before" movies in telling the story of two strangers bonding as they wander through a city (before your eyes roll out of your head, I am not saying "A Quiet Place: Day One" is as good as the "Before" movies, but the comparison popped into my head as I watched the film unfold). Nyong'o and Quinn have wonderful chemistry together, and while I don't want to give you the impression that this is a romance, I will say I found the quiet little moments they share to be rather lovely. There's a simple, unremarked-upon scene where Sam drapes her yellow cardigan sweater over Eric's shoulders that's achingly touching

Occasionally, there are moments when the monsters attack, but I'll confess I found these to be the least interesting scenes in the film, and some of the action is muddled and needlessly hard to follow. The trailers for "A Quiet Place: Day One" are selling this as an action pic, and I do wonder if some casual moviegoers will feel like they've been lied to when they see what this film really is. No matter — I can only speak for myself, and I was taken aback in the best possible way. Against all odds, this is the best movie in the series. How wonderful it is to be surprised.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10

"A Quiet Place: Day One" opens in theaters on June 28, 2024.




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