On Set: “A Quiet Place: Day One”

KHOL film critic Jeff Counts just watched the prequel to "A Quiet Place" and tells us how well it sets up the universe of the original film.
When New York City comes under attack from an alien invasion, a woman and other survivors try to find a way to safety. Lupita Nyong'o stars in this prequel to "A Quiet Place".

by | Jul 5, 2024 | Culture, Film & TV

It was back in 2018 when John Krasinski did his best Jordan Peele impression by stepping behind the camera to present us with a unique and creepy world. Sorry “Bird Box”, he beat you by eight months. And by a mile. “A Quiet Place” presented a truly fresh conceit in the extraterrestrial horror genre and Krasinski had the chops to pull it off. “A Quiet Place: Part II” came quickly on the original’s heels in 2020 and though it obviously felt less new, it held its own. Now we get to see how it all began.           

“A Quiet Place: Day One”, out now in theaters, is not what the trailers have told you to expect. Like the first film in the cycle, this is a small story. It centers on the life of Lupita Nyong’o’s character Sam. She is thrust into the life-and-death struggle that follows the invasion of the creatures we met back in 2018, and the same rules apply. If you make any noise, you’re dead. The action set pieces promised by the trailer are there, and they are very intense. But the heart of the film is Sam and her need to return to the important places of her youth.      

Sam interacts with fellow New Yorkers and visitors along the way, each one purpose-built to teach us something about the kind of person she is. It would have been a little on the nose if not for Nyong’o and her deeply convincing skills as an actor. She’s too good for this kind of movie, to be honest, but the fact that she was willing to do it, and do it so well, elevates everything. Both Alex Wolff and Joseph Quinn are fine in their support of her, but she didn’t really need them.       

I mentioned the rules of this world a bit ago, and they need to be addressed. The kinds and volumes of sounds the creatures react to seem to be conveniently inconsistent, from a plot standpoint. A dropped pin can unleash hell if the story calls for it, but footfalls and panicked breathing happen all the time without issue as the arcs of our heroes are developed. It’s always frustrating when a film ignores its own internal mechanisms for the sake of expediency. These moments of script hypocrisy don’t ruin the experience of “A Quiet Place: Day One”, but if you are like me and a little sensitive to it, you will see it everywhere.   

The special effects of “Day One” are very good, with physically menacing creatures and the highly effective destruction of Manhattan to keep us emotionally committed to the alternate America these films have built. There are no explanations for what is going on with the monsters. They, like so many invading aliens in film, follow the usual “no pants / no personalities” pattern. Just an undifferentiated pack of naked insect/dragon, amygdala-triggering beasts who absolutely do not look like they could pilot interstellar ships. Perhaps the next “Quiet Place” film (yes, more are planned) will fill in some of those details.

As a space monster movie, “A Quiet Place: Day One” does not have much new to say, despite the creative credibility of the 2018 film it sets up. But if you watch this prequel with your eyes fixed solely on Lupita Nyong’o, you will find something to think about when it’s over. The moments of tragic personal humanity she wrings from this script are quite moving. You’ll know them by their music. The movie itself, by obvious design, attempts to stay silent most of the time. But the score is put to good use when we need markers of Sam’s internal life. Those triggers remind us to pay close attention to Nyong’o and we are better for it. Without her, this movie would not have been half as good. 

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About Jeff Counts

Before moving to Jackson in 2019, Jeff spent five years reviewing movies as co-host of the public access television program "Big Movie Mouth-Off." When not focused on film, Jeff writes about opera and co-hosts the classical music interview podcast "Ghost Light."

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