Credit: Paramount Pictures
Blockbuster Beat by Matt Lynch Featured Film

A Quiet Place: Day One — Michael Sarnoski

June 27, 2024

John Krasinski’s previous two A Quiet Place movies featured a family of refugees trying to survive after alien monsters — who attack anything that makes even the slightest noise — have decimated civilization. They’re slick little movies, boasting a few quality jump scares a piece and supported by a couple well-constructed suspense set pieces. Which means, despite the inherent silliness of the franchise’s premise, this inaugural pair strikes of balance of genuine gravity and a sense of fun that really helps them go down smoothly, especially with a crowd. Now, perhaps inevitably, there’s a prequel, and A Quiet Place: Day One, for better or worse, takes a somewhat different approach, with varying degrees of success.

First, we meet Sam (Lupita Nyong’o), a poet who is currently a terminal cancer patient in hospice care. She’s sanguine and sarcastic about her dwindling time on this mortal coil. A nurse convinces her to come along to a show in New York City, which she agrees to only on the condition that they make a stop for pizza in the city. Of course, while on this little field trip, the aliens attack, and we witness — although not for the first time, given a brief scene plunked into the previous movie — the initial invasion of these giant, frightening creatures who are designed basically as jumbo claws with big ears for heads. Sam decides that since she doesn’t have long left anyway, rather than head for rescue she’ll travel deep into Harlem to have one last slice of pizza at her favorite joint. Along the way she meets fellow survivor Eric (Joseph Quinn), who’s also terrified and alone and for some reason wants to follow her. And also along for the ride is Sam’s cat, Frodo (of course), who it should be noted is hands down the movie’s MVP.

Taking over for Krasinski is Michael Sarnoski, director of the excellent Nic Cage vehicle Pig from a few year’s back. By all impressions, Sarnoski’s intended project here appears to be making a rather morose two-hander drama set against the backdrop of a heebie-jeebies alien monster movie. Thankfully, Nyong’o and Quinn are mostly up for the task. The former especially is saddled with a handful of tear-streaked monologues about her willingness to meet death on her own terms, sometimes delivered while her character is riddled with incredible physical pain from her illness. The sense of intimacy Day One develops between these two strangers is surprisingly effective.

On the other hand, there’s a serious lack of inventive scares or sustained suspense sequences. Our two leads go somewhere, something makes a noise, they hightail it to quieter environs, away, and then they’re somewhere else. Repeat. There’s simply little sense of momentum or narrative progress to the duo’s pizza run. Further, as intriguing as it may be to explain as little as possible about the invading creatures, after three films it’s impossible to not crave a bit more detail; at the very least some hints about their goals or abilities or weaknesses (while still undeveloped, the previous two movies did a better job in this arena). One sequence does involve Eric finding a nest of some sort, but it only functions to raise more questions while also not being a particularly suspenseful detour. Ultimately, while the the core element of this particular entry is quite intentionally its character chamber piece, which works far more frequently than it doesn’t and offers a nice wrinkle to the preceding formula, it comes at the expense of developing the more crowd-pleasing sci-fi suspense thriller.

DIRECTOR: Michael Sarnoski;  CAST: Lupita Nyong’o, Joseph Quinn, Alex Wolff, Djimon Hounsou;  DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount Pictures;  IN THEATERS: June 28;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 40 min.