A Quiet Place: Day One Plays Like a Cloying, Perfunctory Commercial

Movies Reviews A Quiet Place
A Quiet Place: Day One Plays Like a Cloying, Perfunctory Commercial

In 2024, IP is king. A Quiet Place: Day One, the prequel to John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place, is just another dismal example of this. The first Quiet Place was decently effective in its sensory novelty—evocative in spite of (and perhaps because) of its TradCath ideology. The premise of Michael Sarnoski’s Day One hints at a more filled-in world, but plays more like a maudlin, shallow commercial for the franchise, aided by an overused, cloying score and simplistic, navel-gazing character arcs. 

A Quiet Place: Day One centers on the terminally ill, misanthropic Sam (Lupita Nyong’o), who lives in a hospice right outside of New York City with her service cat Frodo (the remarkably chill star of the picture). At the start of the film, care worker Reuben (Alex Wolff) promises her pizza and a theater outing if she joins a group trip to Manhattan. That same day, of course, meteor-like objects attack the city from the sky and extraterrestrial creatures, sensitive to sound, begin to ravage the hordes of inhabitants afterward. The group of cancer patients, including Sam, are stuck in the chaos.

Sam plays more like a walking archetype rather than a full character, though Nyong’o’s performance is one of the film’s strengths, often filling in gaps in her character that don’t follow logically. For instance, Sam’s unyielding desire to head to her favorite pizza place, Patsy’s Pizzeria in Harlem, even after A Quiet Place: Day One’s apocalyptic event, is only barely convincing because Nyong’o is so skilled at portraying the most basic of emotions: fear, despair, loneliness, belligerence. She is our proxy. She wants to get pizza from a place that’s probably been destroyed due to a burgeoning alien invasion? Sure, we’re with her. Maybe. The introduction of Joseph Quinn’s Eric, a British law student, is also a highlight, simply because he is adequate at embodying a pathetic, cat-like nature that works opposite Sam. His attachment to Sam and Frodo feels natural only due to Quinn’s ability to evoke the qualities of a dying bird.

Plot contrivances abound in A Quiet Place: Day One, but this is far from the only problem. Early on, the picture’s cataclysmic events briefly lean into 9/11 and COVID-19 imagery, but these fall away as Sarnoski etches arcs for Sam and Eric that amount to a mawkish, vague, AT&T commercial version of a story about human connection. And even this, at various points, does communicate something beautiful. When Eric embarks on an odyssey through New York to retrieve Sam’s pain medication, the sequence feels like a tender ode to relationships amid COVID.

Toward the end of the film, though, the plot and character contrivances jumble up together only to formulate an excessively facile end for its lead. Sam used to go to a jazz club with her late father, eating Patsy’s pizza and watching him play the piano. Eric takes her to the club and picks up a box of pizza, writing Patsy’s on the box. They share gentle smiles; Eric has gifted Sam the desire to live again. 

The problem is, though, that everything leading up to this moment—which sees Sam, on her iPod, listening to Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” when facing extraterrestrial creatures—is hazily delineated. Even this image feels perfunctory and surface-level, with its overused, on-the-nose needledrop. Was Sam’s irrational drive to find pizza rooted in active or passive suicidal ideation? If so, there were a multitude of plot or character possibilities that would have rendered her narrative more complicated, less neat. For much of A Quiet Place: Day One, there’s little to discern about her inner world aside from her sensory responses to destruction and pain, and even less to discern about the crumbling world around her. 

And that’s bad if you are going to ostensibly focus your prequel on your characters. The scares hardly register, and neither does the setting, all because the characters themselves don’t. Sarnoski’s desire to focalize fraught connection amid global tragedy has the potential to be poignant, but fails because it relies on therapy-esque clichés rather than intricate character specificity. See: a sequence in which the leads, seeking catharsis, scream into the night alongside the rhythm of rolling thunder. Their yells are a welcome sonic juxtaposition from the quiet of the rest of the film, but never resonate beyond this mimicking of a wellness instruction manual. Sadly, even when repeated regurgitations of IP switch up their aims, they are almost always rote.

Hafsah Abbasi is a film critic who has covered the Sundance Film Festival and the Mill Valley Film Festival in years past. She currently resides in Berkeley, California. Find her latest writing at https://twitter.com/hafs_uh.

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