A QUIET PLACE: DAY ONE is a Sincere Near-Silent Stunner

Lupita Nyong’o and Joseph Quinn deliver dynamite performances in Michael Sarnoski’s breathtaking, bar-raising franchise entry

Stills courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Besides her cat Frodo, there isn’t much left for Sam (Lupita Nyong’o) to care for. Once a successful poet, she spends the last of her days listlessly attending group therapy and taking stabilizing meds as a resident in an outer New York borough hospice. Group leader Reuben (Alex Wolff) lures Sam into joining fellow residents on an outing into the City–the deal sealed with the temptations of inner-city pizza. The lives of Manhattanites (and those the world over) are forever changed that day with the explosively deadly arrival of the Quiet Place franchise’s iconic sound-sensitive creatures; however, Sam’s life dramatically pivots when she crosses paths with fellow survivor Eric (Joseph Quinn). 

The first Quiet Place film made a resounding impact on the horror landscape in 2018, with its innovative use of silence laudably differentiating it from other predictable scream-ridden thrills. Its smart, stripped-down approach to horror spun gold from a simple yet dynamite premise and a rigorous emotional investment in its small cast of characters. While the film’s delayed sequel ventured its central family into intriguing territory, A Quiet Place Part II failed to capture the same thrilling newness of the first film, instead spinning its wheels by relying on scares far too similar to what came before. The prospect of a prequel may fill some jaded horror fans with justifiable ambivalence or dread–but Pig director Michael Sarnoski and leads Lupita Nyong’o and Joseph Quinn are more than ready to shock those expectations into stunned silence.

Together, they dial up the Quiet Place franchise’s sonic-specific mayhem alongside the aching sincerity of this film’s central relationship. With A Quiet Place: Day One, Sarnoski supercharges every aspect of this series’ tension, terror, and tenderness–creating a summer blockbuster that’s as rewarding as a romantic disaster drama as it is a suspenseful creature feature.

Making an incredible return to horror after the iconic double-hitter of Us and Little Monsters, Lupita Nyong’o brings Day One’s Sam to life by intricately realizing her character’s flaws as much as her strengths (if not more). What’s more, Nyong’o joins fellow summer heroine in Furiosa’s Anya Taylor-Joy by deftly and intimately relating these qualities through a mainly non-verbal performance. Faced with an isolation as terminal as her illness, Sam is justifiably bitter and withdrawn, already predisposed to silence. When life has seen fit to rob her of those she cares about and is about to take her next, what point is there in communicating or building further relationships? Never mind that those words–and what they meant–once resulted in a lucrative life as a poet. Faced with a looming permanent silence, Sam and her adorable little gremlin of a service cat are content with latent asceticism, only impacting the world around them as much as they feel obligated to. Faced with the new reality that anyone’s life could end with a single shout, however, Sam’s resolute silence becomes an unexpected life-saving asset–and a conscious choice for survival. 

While silence may be golden across each of the films in the Quiet Place franchise, Sarnoski’s efficient empathy machine of a screenplay (sharing story credit with a returning John Krasinski) deeply reckons with the emotional impact of silence far beyond just a vital means of survival. Silence pushes characters to resort to lethal means to force others to stay quiet; it allows characters to find unexpected joy and comfort with one another; and when words are finally spoken–each statement carries far more weight than ever before. I’m so curious to know just how long this screenplay must be; with far less dialogue than other films in this series, A Quiet Place: Day One shares more narrative economy with the criminally underrated All is Lost than Day One’s preceding two films. As the third film in a horror series with an ever-solidifying status as a moneymaking IP, Day One also deserves commendation for resisting the late-franchise urge to pile on the lore. Aside from Djimon Hounsou’s brief yet captivating returning character and an equally brief scene exploring how these creatures survive, Sarnoski and team remain laser-focused on the immediate dangers to Sam and her fellow survivors, as well as the emotional consequences that follow.

What’s also markedly effective now–and what creeps through each frame–is A Quiet Place: Day One’s bleak status as the first of these films made after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. While taking place in a visceral post-apocalyptic world, the first two Quiet Place movies were made before COVID hit; in a grim twist of fate, Part II was one of the first films to have its release delayed as the pandemic began. Day One, however, is the first of the Quiet Place films that truly grasps the experience of enduring such unpredictable terror. Every familiar setting feels like it has invisible threats, and every character new and old feels capable of harm–whether intentional or not. While Day One’s urban setting makes room for a grander scope of terrific and terrifying setpieces, at their core is more lived-in and immediate suspense than Parts I & II, with a distinct rawness that can only be born of global trauma.

With this in mind, A Quiet Place: Day One’s most invaluable element is the achingly genuine relationship that blooms between stubbornly withdrawn Sam and Joseph Quinn’s Eric. A Brit attending law school when the sonic hunters invade, Eric is trapped half a world away from anyone he truly cares about, unable to help them and vice-versa. With a friendly helping paw from Frodo, the coincidences of chaos force Sam and Eric together, and the homesick, shell-shocked Eric clings to Sam like an emotional life raft just as much as Sam is eager to shake him off. Yet for all of this potential lost puppy dog energy, Quinn manages to ground Eric in an emotional vulnerability that galvanizes into comically sly, pragmatic action when it comes to protecting whoever Eric actually can. In a wholesome evolution to the empathy that made Sarnoski’s debut Pig so damn memorable, the dubious pair find a relatable match in each other’s unresolvable longing. It’s a major coup for Day One to allow three astounding talents like Sarnoski, Nyong’o, and Quinn to depict such a moving onscreen relationship often with little more than facial expressions and non-verbal cues.

I know by this point I’ve heaped an effusive amount of praise on this film, though Day One does have its drawbacks. While the film’s shift in perspective gives a chance, engaging illumination of Djimon Hounsou’s character from Part II, this talented actor is once again denied the opportunity to thrive within his frustratingly limited screen time. While Frodo the cat is a welcome source of levity across the film, he’s at times infuriatingly resilient, functioning more as a device to get our characters to the next suspenseful sequence–though, on reflection, what cats aren’t magical creatures capable of eliciting life-threatening frustration and admiration all at once? 

While A Quiet Place’s original Abbott family fittingly placed the will to survive at such a premium in this franchise, Lupita Nyong’o’s Sam and Joseph Quinn’s Eric excitingly evolve that impulse to not just surviving at any cost–but complimenting it with an equally motivating throughline of fighting to preserve just what makes that survival meaningful. That tender resonance is the foundation of every film in this series, and Michael Sarnoski unites the emotional heights with a level of blockbuster filmmaking as of yet unseen in both this director and this franchise. The resulting efforts set a new bar for all creatives involved, raising the sense of suspense and spectacle worth the price of big-screen admission while retaining an exacting focus on the emotional drama that makes these Quiet Place films so compelling among modern horror.

A Quiet Place: Day One hits theaters on June 28th courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

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