A Quiet Place Day One review

A Quiet Place: Day One is the best film in this horror franchise

3 stars out of 5

For actor turned director John Krasinski, A Quiet Place was a pivotal turning point in his career. The first film, an action-horror film with superficial Spielbergian influences, took a unique horror concept that invited the audience on an experience-dense cinematic adventure. Set in a post-apocalyptic America where a race of vicious, blind, high-speed aliens with superior hearing have destroyed the country, the film follows a small family hoping to survive in the countryside. A Quiet Place: Part Two, much of the same but worse, repeated that premise leaning a little more deeply into the action and adventure aspects. It seemed that the franchise was doomed to collapse under the law of diminishing returns if it stayed on this path — in a few years, we’d be sitting back to watch A Quiet Place: Copy Pasted, a flimsy premise reduced to blurry shapes and colours that just barely resemble a real film.

Enter director Michael Sarnoski (Pig), tasked with bringing the prequel A Quiet Place: Day One to the screen, imagining the first day the aliens arrive, with a script co-written by Krasinski. It has many of the sentimental flaws of the earlier films; Day One follows a dying cancer patient, Samira (Lupita Nyong’o), and her pet cat Frodo on their last trip to New York City to see a marionette show with their hospice care. You can use your imagination to understand how the premise alone ramps up the potential for a number of corny and cloying “hit you in the feels” moments. Sarnoski though, knows how to direct a feature, and he (mostly) avoids over-emphazising the cheap emotional manipulation of the premise. 

A Quiet Place Day One new movies june

Almost as if Sarnoski set a challenge for himself, A Quiet Place: Day One features almost less dialogue than the first films. While the film opens up with a backstory that sets the scene for Samira’s impending death and her cynical lack of hope, once the aliens hit New York City in the first act, the dialogue screeches to almost nothing. The film, though, never feels empty as he uses sound and his actor’s faces to translate the enormity of the film’s emotional trajectory. Even the cat becomes an efficient tool in making exposition more compelling, even if the film can’t quite gloss over its sillier moments (such as a nighttime detour into an abandoned worksite that is fairly nonsensical in terms of characterization and seems intended to ramp up the franchise with some new, pointless lore). In the Marvelization of cinema, it does feel as though everything needs to be tied in or set up for some future offshoot. Everything needs to feed the brand, nothing else matters.

Removing rural environments and more “settled” family life, this movie also moves away from the gadget-heavy apparatus of the previous films. We watch as people learn to adapt to their new lives, rather than how they’ve already settled into it. Also, in contrast to the vaguely conservative hard-on fantasy of homestead life, this film serves as an enduring tribute to the sounds of the big city. As the movie opens, we’re treated to a bird’s eye view of New York City, and we’re told that it emits on average 90 decimals of sound, the same pitch as a scream. Refreshingly though, the movie doesn’t just lean into this premise for horror. In terms of developing Samira’s character, “noise” becomes “music,” and the “scream” becomes a song. The movie seems imbued with mourning for a city reduced to a whisper, as so much of its soul is wrapped up in its soundscape. 

Djimon Hounsou, Lupita Nyong’o and Alex Wolff in A Quiet Place: Day One

It certainly doesn’t hurt that A Quiet Place: Day One features an outstanding and over-qualified cast. Of course, Lupita Nyong’o continues her run as a devastatingly effective scream-queen. She leaps into the character with the enthusiasm befitting an Oscar-winner who has struggled to be cast in material matching her talent. The supporting cast is rounded off by roles filled by titanic presences, such as Joseph Quinn (Stranger Things), Alex Wolff (Hereditary) and Djimon Hounsou (Marvel but also many great films). The number of characters in the film is minimal and so these actors are tasked with fleshing out the emotional weight of an entire universe — with the help of the cat, of course, a character that is cleverly integrated but also used as a manipulative crutch, guiding the audience to the brink of tears before pulling them back again. 

A Quiet Place: Day One features a lot of the same weaknesses as the previous two films, but overall, manages to overcome them. It’s a movie that takes its premise and makes the best of it. The running time is manageable and the movie doesn’t over-extend its welcome. The acting is consistently good and the film has an astonishing sense of pacing built through camera movement and clever use of sound. While overall the movie lacks some flesh (its pared down premise is effective but devoid of depth), it’s still an entertaining experience. ■

A Quiet Place: Day One (directed by Michael Sarnoski)

A Quiet Place: Day One opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, June 28. 

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