'A Quiet Place: Day One' Review: Lupita Nyong'o, Aliens and Pizza, Oh My! – Rolling Stone

By David Fear
There are eight million stories in the naked city. Unless, of course, that metropolis is under attack by aliens who’ve fallen from the sky, have extraordinary hearing, and want nothing more than to eat humans and wreak havoc. Then you really just have eight million different versions of the same story: keep quiet, carry on and try your best to stay alive. John Krasinski‘s A Quiet Place (2018) managed to add an intriguing wrinkle to the watch-the-skies genre by dropping viewers into an invasion already in progress and forcing its survivalist heroes to STFU in order to avoid extinction. The 2020 sequel rinsed and repeated the tension-release set pieces, if not exactly expanding on the concept. But it did have one key addition: an opening sequence that rewound to the very beginning, allowing us to see what it was like for the franchise’s family unit to experience that initial alien assault. This was what ground zero looked like for their community in upstate New York. Imagine what it must have been like in Manhattan.

A Quiet Place: Day One takes that last part and runs with it, upping the ante by focusing on the chaos that happened when those killer extraterrestrials first touched down in downtown. That alone should flip the script and differentiate this third entry from its predecessors, but the folks behind this prequel have a few other tricks up their sleeve. They’re going to deliver the expected thrills, spills, and chills, as well as the requisite jump scares, the series’ creepy-crawlers doing what they do best (listening closely and feasting) and a decent amount of CGI destruction. But they’re also crafting a moody, mercurial character piece, anchored by yet another extraordinary performance by Lupita Nyong’o, about a terminally ill woman and her comfort-animal cat navigating a desolate, postapocalyptic New York City for a slice at her favorite pizzeria. We’re being completely serious here. Please stop laughing.
The obsession over the perfectly prepared Italian-food delicacy starts early, when Samira (Nyong’o) is coaxed to leave the cancer ward by her nurse, Reuben (Alex Wolff), for a trip into the big city. He’s taking the patients in his care out to see a puppet show in Chinatown. She’s not interested, until the promise of NYC pizza for lunch is dangled in front of her. Plus she can bring her cat, Frodo. Sold! Driving into the city, neither Samira nor her fellow travelers (nor, for that matter, her cat) take much notice of the military jets flying over the island as they cross the bridge into Manhattan. They’re too excited about the field trip. She’s preoccupied by thoughts of that delicious, forthcoming cheese-no-toppings meal.

When the performance is interrupted and Reuben informs Samira that they have to leave — something about an incident happening across town that requires an evacuation — she’s distraught. You said we’d get pizza. We can get get it here and bring it back to the ward. We have time! Except, well, no, they don’t. One of the dozens of meteorites whizzing through the sky crashes 100 yards in front of them, and after that: It’s on. Samira is knocked unconscious. When she awakens, downtown is one huge, ashy crime scene, filmed in a way that brings to mind a real-life attack and may trigger any number of viewers. Finding sanctuary with her fellow survivors — including Djimon Hounsou’s Henri, the “Man on Island” from Part II — inside the theater, Samira gathers her wits and her loyal feline, and decides to set out on a mission. She’s heading up to Harlem. That’s where Patsy’s is. That place always had the best pizza when she was a kid.

From there, Day One alternates between the expected blockbuster-style sound and fury — with the former being appropriately doled out according to the in-house rules of Shhhhh or perish — and a slightly offbeat, surprisingly tender portrait of a woman willing to risk what’s left of her life for a thin-crusted Proustian madeleine. Along the way, Samira is joined by Eric (Stranger Things‘ Joseph Quinn), a British guy in a suit who emerges from a flooded subway entrance and, despite her protestations, decides to go north with her rather than south towards the seaport, where people are being ferried to safety. All the better to aid Samira when a herd of aliens attack them in a glass-walled skyscraper, to grab her meds when her cancer debilitates her, help take care of the world’s most resourceful cat (a four-legged star is born!), and perform card tricks for her in an abandoned but well-preserved jazz club across 110th street.


That music venue has as much significance as Patsy’s to Samira, and it’s to both Nyong’o and writer-director Michael Sarnoski’s credit that you become invested in her symbolic culinary quest as much as the choreographed bits of carnage. The Oscar-winner has long proven her bona fides as the sort of expressive screen actor that doesn’t need long monologues or soliloquies to hit emotional marks — so many of her best, most unnerving moments in Jordan Peele’s Us barely rely on dialogue. Which makes her the perfect hero for a Quiet Place entry, of course, but she also manages to sell you on why this dying woman is so determined to have one final moment of memory-based bliss. As for Sarnoski, his previous movie Pig (2021) presented as a Nicolas Cage revenge flick on the surface, only to reveal itself as something far more wounding and compelling than your average thriller. He’s trying to do the same thing here, smuggling in a story of grief, acceptance and the pain of the long goodbye under the cover of Monster Aliens Fuck Shit Up.
Is that a subversive move for someone working within the confines of a genre franchise still predicated on big-tentpole excitement and bang-boom-crash spectacle? Yes. Does it make Day One a more interesting excursion into a horror/sci-fi scenario than just repeating what came before? Definitely, though you can already hear some fans feeling like they signed up for mayhem and ended up with a lot of muted melodrama, inevitably resulting in a collective throwing of popcorn. Personally, we admire the guts it took to take the alien-occupied road less traveled, even if the movie could use more prop guts overall. So many of these endless sequels and prequels and series spin-offs feel interchangeable, repetitive, instantly disposable after opening weekend. You can’t accuse Day One of playing its safe by regurgitating the same ol’ shocks and ahhs. And while it may not fully satisfy that primal urge that drives us to summer movies in the first place, it’s still breathes fresh air into a series in danger of becoming rote and stale. Plus it should do wonders for the pizzeria industry.

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