A Quiet Place: Day One

It’s kind of a miracle that A Quiet Place: Day One is as good as it is. A prequel to John Krasinski’s blockbuster chiller didn’t seem necessary. The monsters came, people are dealing with them, that’s all that matters. Writer/director Michael Sarnoski (Pig) does something exceptionally smart: he doesn’t explain the alien invasion. We briefly see the creatures coming to Earth, but otherwise, this is another story about people needing to be silent to avoid getting eaten. It refuses to betray the spirit of its predecessors.

Samira (Lupita Nyong’o) is a hospice patient who goes into New York City with her nurse Reuben (Alex Wolff) and some other patients to see a show. While there, aliens begin attacking. Knowing she’s dying either way, Samira decides to head toward Harlem to get one last piece of pizza from her favorite place. (She either doesn’t realize or doesn’t care that the restaurant is probably closed because, you know, the alien invasion). A scared law student named Eric (Joseph Quinn) encounters Samira and her therapy cat and, not wanting to be alone, joins them in the trek. As a nod to A Quiet Place Part II, Djimon Hounsou has a cameo as one of Samira’s fellow theatergoers.

The wrong way to do this prequel would be to tell us everything about the monsters, then fill the movie with spectacular action sequences. The right way is to do it the way A Quiet Place: Day One does. That early attack scene is thrilling. When it’s over, the plot focuses on these two strangers meeting and bonding during a crisis. They have to make as little noise as possible on their journey. Sometimes they succeed; sometimes they don’t and have to outrun a monster. Tension in the movie comes from the same place it did in the two previous installments – from watching characters work overtime to not make a sound. You get that same hold-your-breath intensity.

Although scenes with the creatures are definitely exciting, a human element is at the core of the movie. The third act, in particular, becomes surprisingly emotional. Samira’s journey isn’t really about pizza, it’s about something far deeper. Finding out what that is and watching Eric help her try to accomplish it allows the intermittent action sequences to carry more weight. Strong character development is what made the original special. Maintaining that quality with new protagonists keeps the film faithful while simultaneously freshening it up a little.

Lupita Nyong’o once again demonstrates her immense talent, especially in the horror field. After incredible performances in Us and Little Monsters, she grounds this chiller with a performance that’s real, helping us to understand the complicated feelings Samira has about her own mortality. The actress builds a nice rapport with Joseph Quinn. He’s very good at expressing things with his eyes. That allows him to create a character we understand, despite relatively little dialogue.

Since this is the third entry in the franchise, the novelty of the premise has worn off a tiny bit. A Quiet Place: Day One nevertheless proves there’s still gas in the tank, provided the core tenets remain in place. Prequels rarely work as well as this one does.

out of four

A Quiet Place: Day One is rated PG-13 for terror and violent content/bloody images. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan