A Quiet Place: Day One Review – 'Unexpectedly moving' – Empire

28 Jun 2024
A Quiet Place: Day One
Beyond its hooky nobody-make-a-sound premise (Watch that nail! Stay outta the grain silo! You’re really giving birth in that bathtub?!), it’s easy to forget: A Quiet Place was so effective because it really made you care for the Abbott family. Since John Krasinski and Emily Blunt’s grieving parents were the original’s beating heart, spin-off A Quiet Place: Day One — dialling back to humanity’s first contact with the audibly enhanced aliens — has gaping holes to fill, not only side-stepping the evocative post-collapse setting of the first film and 2021’s Part II, but eschewing the Abbott clan too.
Into that void, writer-director Michael Sarnoski — previously behind Pig, taking over the reins from Krasinski — presents a new pair of protagonists who you’ll deeply connect with over the course of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day in New York City. It’s a tantalising setting for an A Quiet Place movie — as the opening text tells us, the daily hubbub of the Big Apple elicits “the volume of a constant scream”. Lupita Nyong’o is perfectly cast as central figure Sam; Jordan Peele’s Us already proved that her wide-eyed gaze was tailor-made for horror. We immediately learn that Sam is a terminal-cancer patient — a development which offers real thematic meat to chew on. As such, Day One is about how facing the end of your own life is, in a way, to face the end of the world itself.
An intimate character drama that also happens to be an A Quiet Place movie.
With her days numbered, Sam’s motivations are distinctly different to the usual survival-movie fare — and her journey through the city leads her to Eric (Stranger Things 4 breakout Joseph Quinn), a Brit similarly adrift in the urban apocalypse. Quinn exudes endearing sadsack energy without becoming drippy; Eric’s evolving chemistry with Sam runs deep. The film’s best scene sees the pair reading poetry, waiting for thunder to rumble so they can scream their anguish to the heavens. In another life, these two might have enjoyed a Before Sunrise-esque connection. That they never will becomes increasingly gutting.
Less engaging are the alien-attack sequences: though they are solidly constructed and still tense, the Quiet Place formula — quiet-quiet-NOISE-run! — feels increasingly well-trodden. While NYC is a great end-of-days playground (the initial attack recalls Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds), the set-pieces don’t offer much new.
But for all the familiarity (a conclusive ‘Part III’ should really be the end), Sam and Eric’s story is unexpectedly moving. In Sarnoski’s hands, Day One becomes an intimate character drama that also happens to be an A Quiet Place movie — further proof that, in this cinematic world, the only body part more vital than ears is a heart.
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