A Quiet Place: Day One

A Quiet Place: Day One Review: A Best In Series Prequel

With a generous return on investment the envy of studio executives everywhere, the (A) Quiet Place series, originally envisioned as a one-off survival horror-thriller, spawned an equally successful sequel, A Quiet Place: Part II, and now, with nowhere else to go, a prequel, A Quiet Place: Day One. As the title implies, the prequel charts a different extinction-level event, an alien invasion, sudden and devastating in its ferocity and results, turning urban city inhabitants into prey for newly arrived apex predators. The Cybertruck-sized, clawed, armoured aliens hunt their four-legged, bipedal prey through hyper-developed hearing, pound at the slightest sound, tearing their defenceless, soft-bodied prey into their next meal. Next up for humanity: The primary food source for another species.

Both John Krasinski, star of the first film and director of parts I-II, and Emily Blunt, the previous entries’s lead performer, have stepped away from the day-to-day involvement in the series. Krasinski took a backseat, producing and carving out the original story, while Blunt departed completely, her return unlikely but far from impossible. With studio support, Krasinski handed over reigns first to Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter), and after the usual set of creative differences scuttled Nichols’s involvement, to Michael Sarnoski, a critically acclaimed indie director with only the modestly budgeted drama, the Nicolas Cage-starring Pig, on his resume.

Any concerns, however, about Sarnoski’s ability to handle the demands of a complex, studio-made apocalyptic thriller or suppressing his personal sensibilities prove to be completely unfounded. Sarnoski knows when to go big — as in epic-scale big — and he knows how to go small – as in the interstitial, character-driven moments between set pieces — with the ease and dexterity of a far more experienced filmmaker. A simple two-hander between survivors, forced to whisper or use body language, contains almost as much tension or suspense involving the alien predators stalking and swiftly attacking their human prey at the slightest provocation.

Like the previous entries, A Quiet Place: Day One sidesteps the origins of the aliens, assuming not incorrectly that audiences already weaned on the limited information offered by its predecessors simply won’t care, or if they do, they won’t care much. What we do see tracks with the series’s previous entries: The aliens descend en masse, likely in meteor or meteor-like transportation, from parts unknown, crash-land on Earth, and proceed to invade, occupy, and destroy anything that makes a sound.

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Sarnoski saves the actual alien invasion for the fifteen-to-twenty-minute mark, initially focusing on Samira (Lupita Nyong’o), a thirty-something woman facing a grim prognosis, terminal cancer, with a mixture of frustration, bitterness, and resentment. Relegated to a hospice outside Manhattan, Sam counts down the days until the metastasizing cancer attacking her body wins. The hospice’s senior nursing attendant, Reuben (Alex Wolff), however, thinks differently: He wants Sam to find joy and pleasure where she can. Only her service cat, Frodo, brings her briefly out of her protective shell.

After Reuben convinces Sam to join the other patients on a day trip to Manhattan (Sam agrees, but only if pizza is involved), they head out. Seemingly minutes into a marionette show, though, the aliens usher in the apocalypse and Sam, along with Reuben and any stray survivors hide inside the puppet theater, desperately hoping for the military to save them while making as little noise as possible. News of evacuation zones, specifically the South Sea Seaport, gives the survivors hope and a reason to start moving again.

Not surprisingly, it’s not enough and Sam finds herself alone, separated from the other survivors, but with a goal in place: Somehow traversing the alien-infested blocks of mid-Manhattan without losing her life, and sitting down for one last slice of pizza up in Harlem where she lived before cancer arrived and irrevocably changed her life. And apparently nothing, not even an invasion involving ravenous, sound-sensitive aliens, will dissuade her from her journey. (Pizza is life.)

As absurd as Sam’s goal sounds, Sarnoski handles it with a believable mixture of humor and sentiment, slowly revealing layers to Sam’s goal that ultimately lead to one of the film’s most powerful moments, one involving Sam’s latest and last companion, Eric (Joseph Quinn), a wayward Brit, a happy childhood memory, and the aforementioned slice of pizza, all done mostly without dialogue, depending on Nyong’o and Quinn to use every bit of their talent and skill to express the full panoply of emotions.

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At least in part influenced by Steven Spielberg’s 2005 adaptation of H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, Sarnoski recontextualises imagery of an urban centre destroyed within mere minutes or an hour, the air choked with dust (after the initial attack, Sam washes off the dust like Tom Cruise in Spielberg’s film), cars upturned or burnt out, buildings scraped raw by explosions, and bodies of the newly dead littering the streets. Sarnoski deliberately quotes a key oner from Spielberg’s film: As a character exits a ruined building, the camera swings right and then upward, revealing the level and depth of destruction left behind by the initial attack.

Centring the film on a woman, specifically a Black woman’s experiences and her journey, elevates A Quiet Place: Day One from the merely imitative or reductive into something more, something arguably better. A sometimes profound meditation loss, grief, and mourning (for oneself and others), finding meaning in the simplest, most basic experiences, and ultimately choosing how and when your life will have meaning as it reaches its terminal point.

A Quiet Place: Day One is out now in theatres.



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