4 out of 5 stars

The average noise level in New York City is 91 decibels, which is equivalent to listening to a never-ending, interminable scream. Cars honking, the screeching, pneumatic hiss of the subway, and the loud arguments of New Yorkers all contribute to a wall of noise, a constant barrage of sound. In short, it’s the opposite of a quiet place.

Of course, it’s about to become one. On day one of an unspecified alien invasion, residents of the Big Apple discover they must remain utterly silent if they are to stay alive. Sam (Lupita Nyong’o) is a cancer patient on a day out in the city—it will be the final time she’s able to see the metropolis in one piece. Forced to hide in shattered buildings, she encounters Eric (Joseph Quinn), a petrified young man who’s looking for help.

A Quiet Place: Day One reveals that the franchise is capable of diversifying. The thrills that defined the first entry are fewer in director Michael Sarnoski’s (Pig) latest contribution to the series, but the film is still a wholly engrossing experience. Featuring towering performances from our two leading actors, beautiful cinematography, and stellar writing, A Quiet Place: Day One showcases that a mesmerising human story is what truly defines apocalyptic narratives, meaning there’s plenty to appreciate despite the lack of tension.

Actor-turned-director John Krasinski launched the franchise six years ago, and in the cinema, you could have heard a pin drop. A Quiet Place (2018) not only made fantastic use of sound, but also of silence. Krasinski manifested a frightening aura of quiet by having even the slightest of noises lead to a terrified response from everyone onscreen. In the cinema where I first watched it, it felt as though the audience had collectively held their breath for the entire film; the fear of making a sound seemed to extend to the viewers themselves.

One criticism that I will make of Sarnoski’s recent effort is that it fails to create this same mystique. The soundscape of this universe has become slightly less compelling in subsequent films, which could be down to familiarity. I find myself increasingly suspicious of how these aliens can selectively hear a mouse squeak amidst the noise of debris being fired around the city, yet can’t hear someone breathing very quietly centimetres from their face. Occasionally, it feels a little plot-driven.

Additionally, I’m sure some will argue that Sarnoski’s film drags, becoming tedious in parts around the midpoint. While I disagree with this criticism (voiced by those behind me in the cinema), I can understand how the franchise has become something different from its predecessors. The original film had an almost sickeningly fast pace. You probably sweated so much during the first film that you had to peel yourself out of your seat.

Here, I wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing, though I perhaps disagree with those suggesting it is. Sarnoski’s outing was perhaps the most poignant of the franchise, which is saying something: Krasinski was very much dedicated to character and emotion in his first two films. However, Sarnoski turns the franchise into an immensely moving portrayal of survival, fear, and acceptance. There are facets to this entry that are wholly original, something few franchises can boast.

It must be said that some parts of the plot feel repetitive. There are horror movie tropes that require viewers to suspend their disbelief, although not many. Additionally, you might consider a few escapes to be particularly unlikely, but the plot never resorts to cheap deus ex machina. In short, while the plot might not offer anything radically innovative, it certainly does the job.

Perhaps it’s because, even if aspects of the story remain unfortunately familiar, other elements of the film succeed. For instance, the dialogue works wonderfully, with minimal exposition. We learn about Sam’s illness through a poem she reads reluctantly to her group. The rest of the film features very natural dialogue; though the circumstances our protagonists find themselves in may be extreme, their interactions with each other feel distinctly authentic.

This is compounded by the fact that our two lead actors are incredibly talented. Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther) has some of the most emotive facial expressions I’ve ever seen; the amount she can convey using only her eyes is commendable. Since winning an Academy Award for ‘Best Supporting Actress’ in 12 Years a Slave (2013), it feels as though the starlet has been involved in projects beneath her capabilities. Her turn as Patsey in Steve McQueen’s harrowing drama is one of the most stirring performances I’ve ever witnessed, so seeing her work in Disney’s franchise instalments of all things seems a shame.

She indeed delivered stunning performances in Us (2019) and Little Monsters (2019), but it feels as though her showing in A Quiet Place: Day One represents a significant return to form. She’s ably supported in her performance by Joseph Quinn (Stranger Things), who conveys a raw emotionality as a man desperately trying to stay alive in an environment where that seems almost impossible. Much like Nyong’o, Quinn is capable of imparting a great deal using only his pupils, revealing a prodigious acting talent along the way.

Despite a steadily diminishing sense of menace throughout the franchise, the aliens remain unsettling presences. Little is done to explain how they function, why they’re on Earth, or what they do. Do they devour people after killing them? Or is it simply that they loathe noise, like some demonic, extraterrestrial librarians? The truth is, it doesn’t matter, and our directors for the franchise, be it Krasinski or Sarnoski, are acutely aware of this. The rules are simple: make no sound. Sometimes, a scary monster can just be a scary monster—let’s not have a prequel set on the aliens’ homeworld, please.

The apocalypse is an evergreen topic in cinema, one that allows for the most fantastically morbid depictions of humanity. A setting that divulges the lengths people will go to survive can often be unnerving, but in Sarnoski’s film, it’s almost transcendental. Scenes of city life devoid of life quietly introduce themes of transience and the ineffable experiences that make our existences meaningful: revisiting a favourite childhood restaurant, remembering a piece of music your father played, and the smell of old books.

The apocalypse film has remained a compelling genre throughout the years, not because we enjoy watching people suffer, but because we find catharsis in witnessing others find meaning within the suffering. It is often in our darkest moments that we remember what’s truly important, either as individuals or as a society.

For this reason, Sarnoski’s prequel succeeds. The bond that our two heroes forge is built out of desperation, yet they suffer together. When people complain that these thrillers have lost their bite, they fail to recognise that the franchise has evolved beyond simple categorisation. Part of why each film in the franchise has succeeded is the fundamental interest in character and growth, making the viewing experience uncommonly moving.

Consequently, A Quiet Place remains a franchise I’m still intrigued to watch. This newest film shows a fear of death that is more existential than driven by a fear of murderous aliens. As a result, it is a surprisingly affecting film, a tale about what makes a life (and a death) meaningful. It isn’t nearly as thrilling as the original, but it is just as, if not even more, powerful. With a superlative ending that will leave you with goosebumps, Sarnoski has not only proved himself to be a competent director but prevented the franchise from becoming a derivative mess. He also introduced one of cinema’s finest felines, so another 10 points for that.

USA | 2024 | 99 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

frame rated divider paramount

Cast & Crew

director: Michael Sarnoski.
writer: Michael Sarnoski (story by John Krasinski & Michael Sarnoski; based on characters created by Bryan Woods & Scott Beck).
starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Joseph Quinn, Alex Wolff, Djimon Hounsou & Eliane Umuhire.