‘A Quiet Place: Day One’ Review: An Urban Cat-And-Mouse Shift

Aaron Neuwirth reviews A Quiet Place: Day One, an effective prequel in the sci-fi horror series focused on what happened in New York City when the deadly aliens with ultrasonic hearing first arrived.
User Rating: 7

Going back to the beginning is a tricky prospect. It means taking an earlier stance on something already established; therefore, one risks filling in the audience on something they are already three steps ahead of. A Quiet Place has succeeded as a sci-fi horror series based on its primal, minimalist storytelling. There’s next to no concern with where these vicious alien creatures come from. All that matters is that you need to be silent, or you’re doomed. A Quiet Place: Day One doesn’t reinvent our understanding of any of this, but it does reorient our perspective. Instead of a farm with an improbable cornfield or an isolated journey to possible salvation, things now take place in the big city right when the invasion starts. With a new set of characters to follow and a continued strong grasp on creating tension, this entry fits right in with what the series has excelled at so far, making for solid spectacle entertainment, told as loudly and quietly as possible.

Set in New York City, we first settle in with Samira (Lupita Nyong’o), a woman with a terminal illness, living in hospice care with others who share a similar fate, as well as her cat, Frodo. We can infer early on that she’s an artist of some kind but has reached a creative block, stunting her attitude as well, being a woman as relatively young as she is and experiencing the amount of pain she has in the limited time she has left. Ideally, she could find solace with Reuben (Alex Wolff), a young caretaker attempting to do his best through group therapy sessions and the promise of pizza. Oh, and rampaging aliens with ultrasonic hearing end up crashing into the city and ripping apart anything in their path.

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A Quiet Place: Day One

Lasting only mere minutes longer than the first two films, there’s notably more dialogue to help build the characters we meet. That’s not to say the movie doesn’t have its own way of creating the unique sound design to help it fit within this series (and I’ll speak more about that soon), but being able to build a fresh base with new characters this time around, there’s already enough going on to show that writer/director Michael Sarnoski (Pig) has ideas in mind to expand beyond the parent/child-centered themes of the first two movies.

This approach speaks to the main drive of the film, as Sam is obviously jarred by the sudden arrival of evil extraterrestrials, but she’s also nearing the point of giving up on life. This is countered by the arrival of Eric (Joseph Quinn, the newly minted Johnny Storm in the MCU’s upcoming Fantastic Four). Eric is not from the city and has no one in the vicinity he can try to hide out with. Instead, he’s scared out of his mind. A chance encounter with feline Frodo leads him to Samira, and the two form a duo looking to at least make it to Harlem, where Sam can have some pizza. The goal of getting to the water is also in mind, but staying quiet and hidden is the main priority.

As director Sarnoski is coming off a low-budget success (helping put Nicolas Cage back in good favor with critics in the process), and now coming into the world of Summer blockbusters, he equips himself well. Having developed the story with previous series star/director John Krasinski and drawing on Children of Men, among other features, as key influences, finding a balance between the quieter and louder scenes comes very naturally for this film. Does the a to b to c plotting style still make this creature feature feel like a survival horror video game? Sure, but much like with 2020’s A Quiet Place Part Two, not only am I not tired of the threat at play, I’m appreciating what’s done with the larger scale.

I was intrigued by what it would mean to see these aliens in the big city. A sprawling urban environment will obviously be terrible for the humans in this scenario, but it creates a new way to experience this attack. Just one of these things is enough to cause a large amount of mayhem. This film offers tons of creatures at any one time. Hearing packs of them racing through the streets creates plenty of tension. Being with an audience that has the same idea as the people in the film, you could hear a pin drop because of the sustained level of suspense at play that clearly registers with everyone. While I have been and remain of the mind that A Quiet Place films feel more like horror movies that can be enjoyed by people who don’t typically watch scary movies, being very good at creating certain types of frights is worth applauding with these films.

It’s not hurting at all how great his production looks. The creatures look more menacing and malicious than ever. With no real room for mystique at this point, providing full-on looks that reestablish their design and continue to put their capabilities on display is handled appropriately. Designing sound entirely around what would attract them and how they react is also incredibly done. Even before their arrival, the sound choices do well to emphasize the decibel level of the city without letting us hear thousands of people talking. Once all hell breaks loose, destruction and screams are put to good use. Monster growls are loud and scary. But then it’s the quiet that really grabs attention. Knowing any amount of noise, low as it may be, could lead to one’s doom, it’s impressive to see another film emphasizing just how difficult it can be to produce as little sound as possible.

A Quiet Place: Day One

In terms of expanding on the lore or anything of that nature, A Quiet Place: Day One is not a film meant to provide any answers. There may be clues for the super fans who want to dissect everything, and there’s at least one new thing we see the creatures do, but there’s still no mystery to be solved. The only thing speaking to the broader universe is the presence of the always welcome Djimon Hounsou, who reprises his role from the previous film, giving us an idea of where he came from. As with the few other human characters with substantial roles in this film, his mere presence allows him to shine.

With that in mind, Nyong’o and Quinn do all they can to make these characters empathetic. How they help each other speaks to what a great job this film does in building a bond between characters forced together under the most stressful circumstances. And with so little room for humor in these films, at least being able to see humanity shine through between them brings out the hope that these characters will make it out of this mess. Also, Frodo the cat, played by Schnitzel and Nico, is prominent enough to note the solid performance we see from actual animals here, as opposed to CG versions.

Given the hastiness of each of these movies, while I like the “get in and get out” approach to the pacing of each entry, I can say the film’s final beat didn’t quite hit me as satisfyingly as the previous two films did. I’ll be vague, but this is a case where the movie relies entirely on telling the audience something thematically instead of practically, and I can’t say I was all the way there with that decision. However, in terms of story arcs, sure, enough is accomplished here.

If I were to evaluate this on entertainment value first, A Quiet Place: Day One hits all it needs to give audiences more of what they have liked about these movies. Sure, being set in New York means being compared to other big-city alien invasion movies like Cloverfield, The Tomorrow War, or Independence Day. Still, these creatures have earned their way into becoming a modern movie threat of today worth worrying about. On top of all this, with new characters to follow, I appreciated what Nyong’o and Quinn were delivering here. Much like the other two films, there’s a more intimate approach to all we see, and there’s not too much more complexity to go along with that. Still, as a sensory experience designed to thrill audiences, this turned out to be a good day.

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

7
Good
Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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