Unbelievable! ‘A Quiet Place: Day One’ Prequel Outshines Original in Mood – Full Review!

The viewing experience of “A Quiet Place: Day One” is a sensory adjustment, not solely due to the impending alien horror that’s expected, but rather the lingering intimate human drama that it clings on to, long after a lesser film would have conceded. Among the striking visuals, the New York skyline viewed distantly from a Queens cemetery is a sight common to those who’ve driven into the city. There are the accepting glances of terminally ill patients in hospice. Above all, we observe the sublime face of Lupita Nyong’o as Sam, a young individual at the prime of her life, afflicted with cancer, bearing the injustice of her situation subtly beneath the surface.

The film gradually introduces sirens and the screams of fighter jets into the audio mix, as expected in any prequel to the civilization-ending “A Quiet Place” of 2018 and its sequel in 2020, “A Quiet Place Part II.” However, even amidst clouds of smoke and white ash (best to leave those Sept. 11 flashbacks at home) and irate creatures wreaking havoc like cattle through the city’s glass and steel canyons, the film displays an unusual dedication to the darker aspects of post-apocalyptic filmmaking. It leans more toward “The Road” than “Furiosa.”

Sam is already resigned to her impending death, giving the film a remarkably bleak tone and saving us from the clichéd narrative of a resilient group of survivors plotting. Her sole desire is to walk — very quietly — about 120 blocks north from Chinatown to Harlem, to enjoy the last slices of pizza from Patsy’s before such luxuries become relics of the past.

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The near-radical idea of designing a studio film around this concept is refreshing. As Sam embarks on her journey, a tote bag on her arm and her monochrome companion cat Frodo by her side, it evokes memories of another woman-cat survival tale, “Alien,” stripped to its bare essentials. (It also leads one to somberly speculate about the fate of NYC’s thousands of dogs faced with these sound-sensitive invaders.)

The person orchestrating all of this is director-screenwriter Michael Sarnoski, previously recognized for eliciting a convincingly human performance from Nicolas Cage as a dispirited, shattered chef in “Pig,” which also explored a personal disaster. (He has now created two of the most somber food-centric films consecutively.) Sarnoski, who co-wrote the story with original creator John Krasinski, handles the action sequences reminiscent of James Cameron adequately enough, likely required by the studio executives: chase scenes in waterlogged subway tunnels — gross — and deserted landmarks.

Yet, he excels in capturing personal moments, such as a standout performance by Djimon Hounsou, overwhelmed by guilt and suppressing a scream after mistakenly killing someone due to their loud panic. There’s also a British businessman (Joseph Quinn, last seen jamming to Metallica in “Stranger Things”) who only wishes to accompany Sam on her pizza pursuit. With minimal dialogue, we somehow comprehend that he’s squandered too much of his life being disconnected from others, and he might only have this one day to rectify it.

The subplot concerning Sam’s writing career and unfulfilled dreams is something you can take or leave. For me, there’s more poetry in her stopping at a deserted bookstore, as we all would do, picking up a second-hand paperback (aptly, Octavia E. Butler’s 1987 sci-fi novel “Dawn,” which she likely has read) and inhaling the scent of the pages: a snapshot of history captured in an aroma. She too is relishing the final remnants of humanity. This movie appears to possess a deep understanding of future psychology. Hopefully, we’ll never experience such sadness outside of an ambitious summer blockbuster.

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