Day One’ Review Alien Invasion Prequel Arrives Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing : ‘A Quiet Place

Instead of providing answers or much in the way of suspense, director Michael Sarnoski’s contribution stars Lupita Nyong'o as a terminally ill cat owner tiptoeing through a mostly off-screen apocalypse

Published Time: 27.06.2024 - 17:31:38 Modified Time: 27.06.2024 - 17:31:38

Instead of providing answers or much in the way of suspense, director Michael Sarnoski’s contribution stars Lupita Nyong'o as a terminally ill cat owner tiptoeing through a mostly off-screen apocalypse.

More than a million and a half people live on the island of Manhattan. “A Quiet Place: Day One” focuses on two: Samira (Lupita Nyong’o), a Stage 4 cancer patient, and Eric (“Stranger Things” actor Joseph Quinn), a far-from-home stranger she stumbles upon after the noise-sensitive aliens crash-land in New York. Neither one seems to have much in the way of survival instinct, which makes them an odd couple on whom to concentrate the Big Apple-set prequel to 2018’s hit creature feature — which is probably why writer-director Michael Sarnoski (“Pig”) decided to give Samira a cat named Frodo. People are expendable, but no one wants to see a service animal torn to shreds by aliens.

Call me macabre, but I expected to see a lot more carnage than Sarnoski’s dismayingly sappy spinoff provides. Just about every scary shot the movie has to offer appears in the trailer — including a super-freaky one where half a dozen Death Angels (as these all-ears aliens are called) race down a skyscraper to terrorize Samira and Eric. They shatter the glass ceiling, but pose very little threat to our heroes, who have decided to hike it to Harlem, where Samira wants to get a pizza. As the two dodge Death Angels, I kept thinking of that old Domino’s slogan: Avoid the Noid. Now we know what that means.

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Alas, this PG-13 monster movie isn’t really interested in the central claim of its own marketing campaign: “Discover why our world went quiet.” Besides, we already know the answer to that question. “A Quiet Place” began on Day 89 of the alien takeover, counting on audiences to figure out the new rules for survival, now that a species of alert, ultra-fast predators were prowling the planet.

As it happens, director John Krasinski’s excellent 2020 sequel flashed back to Day One, revealing the pandemonium the aliens’ arrival caused for unsuspecting humans, before jumping forward more than a year in the “Quiet Place” chronology. In theory, what “Day One” promises — but doesn’t actually deliver — is a more expansive look at the mayhem. Most of the action occurs off-screen, and no one (not even the authorities) so much as attempts to fight back.

Here’s a question that occurred to me during “A Quiet Place Part II,” which “Day One” addresses without really answering: What do these Death Angels/Noids eat? They slaughter pretty much anything that makes a sound, but don’t stick around to devour their prey. This seems like a highly inefficient strategy, although I suppose Americans did something similar to the buffalo back in the day, killing them for sport and leaving the plains strewn with their carcasses.

What about cats? Is Frodo ever really at risk? For the curious, Sarnoski includes a tough-to-decipher scene where a trio of aliens feed on what looks like a feathered version of the ovomorphs from “Alien.” Perhaps this explains why the Death Angels are so aggro: They didn’t pack enough snacks for their intergalactic mission, and Earth doesn’t have what they need. But what do they want?

Produced (like the first two) by Jerry Bruckheimer, “Day One” is served up as a disaster movie, à la Roland Emmerich’s “Independence Day,” with money shots of the Brooklyn Bridge collapsing into the East River and deserted streets that suggest “I Am Legend” by way of 9/11. Where did everybody go? “Day One” makes it look like just a few hundred people call Manhattan home. Surely New York would be crawling with residents, pouring out of the skyscrapers and into the streets, or else retreating into their apartments. It’s Day One o -

f the invasion, and the city is a ghost town.

It’s kind of a fluke that Samira agreed to come along for a field trip to a Manhattan marionette theater, led by a nurse (Alex Wolff) who should have worn quieter clothes. When the aliens land, they immediately start picking off the noisiest humans. Scream, and you’re toast. Call out for your missing partner or child, and a Death Angel is guaranteed to spring from off-screen and rip you in half. While the characters try their best to keep silent, the film’s sound designers do the opposite, using low tones to make the whole theater rumble (Imax and 4DX viewers can literally feel the attack unfolding off-screen).

In the two previous films, the thrill came from watching how characters reacted to these sinewy, double-jointed monsters, whose rattling, Venom-looking heads fold open in a series of flaps as they stop to listen. The terrifying creatures can’t see, but their sense of hearing is hyper-acute, which is why our world went quiet. For some reason, all that stuff it took humans 474 days to learn in the other movies is already known by the characters in this one (like using running water to confound the aliens).

As Samira hides out in the marionette theater with a crowd of strangers (including Djimon Hounsou, the film’s lone connection to the previous installment), military choppers fly overhead, broadcasting instructions: Keep silent. Stay off the bridges. Carefully make your way to the South Street Seaport, where ships are standing by to evacuate people. As an inexplicably small crowd of survivors move south, Samira and Frodo walk in the opposite direction. She wants that pizza.

Nyong’o is an insightful actor wrestling with a prickly and potentially off-putting character — which is a fascinating way to approach someone who, on paper, probably read as an ingratiating empathy magnet. But that’s not how she plays Samira. Faced with the likely annihilation of her species, Samira seems barely interested in staying alive at first. In a way, “Day One” is about watching such a person find something worth fighting for, after she’d all but given up.

Through it all, she remains more committed to protecting her cat — which is ironic, since the animal seems all but guaranteed to attract the wrong kind of attention. It is Frodo who finds Eric and leads him to Samira. Their instant bond feels contrived, though a more charitable viewer might be moved by this nothing-to-lose connection between two lonely souls — what writer-director Lorene Scafaria called “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.”

To his credit, Sarnoski orchestrates a few high-tension set-pieces. But there aren’t nearly enough of these for a movie set in the “Quiet Place” world, as Sarnoski (who put Nicolas Cage through all kinds of nonsensical behavior in “Pig”) winds up putting sentimentality ahead of suspense.

Just compare these movies to the century’s best zombie franchise: “A Quiet Place” ranks up there with “28 Days Later” in its immersive, world-turned-upside-down intrigue. “Part II” was bigger and scarier, à la “28 Weeks Later.” “Day One” ought to have been the mind-blowing origin story, and instead it’s a Hallmark movie, where everyone seems to have nine lives — not just that darn cat.

‘A Quiet Place: Day One’ Review: Alien Invasion Prequel Arrives Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

Reviewed at AMC The Grove, Los Angeles, June 26, 2024. MPA Rating: PG-13. Running time:

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