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Review: ‘A Quiet Place: Day One’ is Empathetic, Tense, and Surprising

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The late Roger Ebert once gave Jurassic Park a lukewarm 3-star review, broadly criticizing the movie for lacking the subtle nature of Jaws. For him, the monster movie approach in that movie hindered his experience and felt messy in character writing. The film critic’s gripes mainly were that there were too many monsters, and the monsters did not take a back seat like they did with Jaws. Ebert’s view is surprising considering the legacy of that film. However, if solid characters, story, and emotional stakes were priorities over monsters, he probably would have loved A Quiet Place: Day One.  The prequel sees Michael Sarnoski take over directing duties from actor and filmmaker John Krasinski.

Sarnoski’s previous film, Pig, starring Nicolas Cage, was one of the best films released during the pandemic. Just like Pig, this sequel is an unexpected emotional surprise. When people go and see the movie this weekend, they will expect a gripping horror film, but they’re going to walk away with a captivating drama with horror elements in various places. The result is one of the most surprisingly heartfelt blockbusters this summer.

A Quiet Place: Day One: the story

Written and directed by Michael Sarnoski, the film centers on Samira (Lupita Nyong’o), a tough woman with a sarcastic, brutally honest spirit, living out her last days in a Hospice home. This writer cannot recall what type of cancer Sam is battling, but it’s at a crucial stage where she requires Fentanyl to fight the pain.

As the film begins, we get to know her by taking a walk in her shoes as she goes about her daily life, including counseling meetings hosted by a soft-spoken caretaker named Reuben (Alex Wolff). Sam’s authenticity appears to be a product of being near the end of her life. In the meetings, she is very clear about her feelings, for better and for worse. Reuben is fond of Sam because of her genuine nature.

Lupita Nyong'o & Dijimon Hounsou A Quiet Place Day One
Lupita Nyong’o and Dijimon Hounsou in A Quiet Place Day One. (Paramount)

Soon after, the film throws the characters on a field trip across New York as Reuben takes the Hospice crew to watch a marionette show. At first, Sam does not want to go on this trip, but Reuben negotiates with her and promises Sam the group will go for a slice of Patsy’s Pizza, a location that has sentiment for her.

As seen in the trailers, the outing goes differently than planned for the hospice patients. Meteor-like objects begin falling from the sky, the military is out in full force, and the infamous creatures from the first two movies begin attacking anything that makes a single sound. The world begins to collapse, people start to die, and everyone has to stay quiet and hidden. Yet, with all the devastation unfolding, Sam stays firm with her original plans. Monsters or no monsters, she will get her slice of Patsy’s Pizza, even if it kills her.

Taking the Pixar approach to A Quiet Place

Pixar has a way of telling simple yet emotional stories in fantastical worlds. Toy Story is about the misadventures of a group of talking toys and the kid who loves them. Up is about a man who makes a house fly with balloons. Both of these things are true. Yet, these properties are grounded in the simplest and most relatable human drama. At its core, Toy Story dives deep into the discussion of what it means to grow up and to move on. Up is about surviving grief and finding more reasons to experience life.

A Quiet Place: Day One feels like Sarnoski took the Pixar approach to the franchise. Yes, the movie is about surviving horrible monsters who desire to kill anything and everything making noise. However, the entire film surrounds itself with a plot about a terminal cancer patient wanting to have the experience of eating one last slice of pizza. The pizza itself is not what matters; it’s what it stands for in the eyes of Sam. For her, getting this one last taste of Patsy’s means more to her than any rescue. And without giving too much away, the payoff of the meaning is terrific.

Similar to Pixar, the movie takes a refreshing approach by pausing for intimate character moments. The film includes suspenseful, nail-biting beats, however, what’s commendable is how Sarnoski bravely allows the characters to express their emotions for extended periods, which truly enhances the stakes. When Joseph Quinn’s character, Eric, enters the picture, it takes the experience to another level. Quinn and Nyong’o deliver magical performances on screen and share some of the best moments in the entire film.

Creative and inventive moments of suspense

The prequel/sequel is fascinating because the writers keep finding clever ways to orchestrate suspense. While there are some repeated elements, like a character freaking out and eventually dying as a result, there are also fantastic sequences in the film. For example, this writer has never feared being trapped underneath a car until seeing this movie. Now, it no longer feels like a safe space in an alien invasion.

Joseph Quinn & Lupita Nyong'o A Quiet Place Day One.
Joseph Quinn and Lupita Nyong’o in A Quiet Place Day One. (Paramount)

The prequel (like the other movies) plays with the idea of what it means to be quiet. Sneaking around and walking quietly works excellently if very few individuals are involved. But what if there are hundreds, if not thousands, simultaneously making the same soft footsteps? The movie cleverly plays with the combined noise as a suspenseful tool. This kind of creativity makes the movie feel inspired. Tension is created in scenarios where there shouldn’t be; this kind of attention to detail enriches the experience. Furthermore, the fantastic sound design enhances the inventive set pieces, which continues to be the MVP of this entire franchise.

A Quiet Place: Day One is also a very well-photographed film. Cinematographer Pat Scola is somewhat of a new name in the industry, but he is already carving out a nice reputation for himself with movies such as A24’s Sing Sing, Pig, and now this film. Even just from the trailer, the sequence where Joseph Quinn and Lupita Nyong’o run through a city building with creatures falling everywhere is suspenseful and masterfully shot. The visual is almost iconic, and the movie has barely been out.

A Quiet Place Day One is a surprisingly superb sequel that keeps the suspense while elevating the thrills with a heartwarming center. Emotional and heartfelt were not descriptors this writer expected, but it should have been foreseen, considering this is the director of Pig. Maybe it’s because this writer’s expectations were not high that the third installment of this series came as an incredible surprise. The performances, the suspense, the emotional gravitas, and the sincere core of the story are unexpectedly great for a movie in its third entry. Fans of the franchise will not be disappointed this weekend.

A Quiet Place: Day One is currently playing in theaters.  Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus if you have seen or plan to see this film in theaters!

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John Dotson

Born and raised in Texas, John Dotson has been a film pundit for over 10 years, writing reviews and entertainment coverage at various online outlets. His favorite thing in the world is discussing movies with others who also love the art form.

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