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A Quiet Place: Day One ~ Review

Note: The following review contains minor spoilers for the film, mainly an emotional plot point.
The most important aspect of a successful monster movie isn’t the monster or the scares, it’s the characters. Ideally, the character drama would be compelling without a hideous monster eating people. It seems simple like anyone could do it, but filmmakers often lose sight of this rule and crank out perfectly serviceable monster films that feel like chaos. A Quiet Place: Day One very nearly sticks the landing.
Samira (Lupita Nyong’o) has essentially given up on the world—a former poet, living in hospice care outside New York City. The only thing in her life she seems to care about is her cat, Frodo, and other than that she’s bitterly resigned to a quiet death in the dull hospice center she calls home. A friendly nurse, Reuben (Alex Wolff), convinces Samira to come to a marionette show in the city, reluctantly she agrees as long as they get pizza on the way back. Of course, this is an alien invasion story and prequel to the post-apocalyptic Quiet Place franchise and this trip into the city is interrupted by an extra-terrestrial invasion of blind toothy creatures who hunt via sound. 
Through a series of harrowing encounters, Samira resolves herself to take her cat and head to Harlem to find a pizza place that her father used to take her to, so she can have a happy memory before she either dies of cancer or is eaten alive by monsters. In the chaos, Samira links up with shellshocked law student Eric (Joseph Quinn). It’s then a desperate game of survival as the two (and the cat) make their way to Harlem.
Without Nyong’o and Quinn’s incredible performances anchoring the film, A Quiet Place: Day One would be a complete bore. These two actors have to navigate their way from set piece to set piece, without dialogue, and imbue their characters with enough heart and soul so 1) the audience understands what is going on and 2) doesn’t find it completely repetitive. At one point, Samira and Eric traverse a flooded subway station. Eric starts to have a panic attack – you can see everything on Quinn’s face (pain, confusion, and worry), and then Samira has to talk him down – without making a sound. Nyong’o shows empathy and exasperation in equal measure, so much depth is brought to a scene that could easily have descended into simple mayhem.
The script by writer/director Michael Sarnoski (with a story by credit from John Krasinski) does a good job of humanizing these various people, but the stars of this show are the set pieces. Sarnoski directs with aplomb. Since the previous films in the franchise took place after the aliens had taken over the world, this film has a lot of fun playing in a world where sound is everywhere.
I have to confess, having never seen the other Quiet Place films, I can’t speak to how this film works as a prequel, I do know that Djimon Hounsou (great here as always) reprises his role from A Quiet Place Part 2. But other than that, I can’t speak to if you learn something new about the creatures or world of A Quiet Place. But, the film stands on its own without any franchise baggage, or the franchise baggage is subtle enough not to hamper enjoyment. I do have to say that the aliens here don’t make a lick of sense from an evolutionary but they are fantastic movie monsters because it allows filmmakers to play with sound in such fun ways. 
I liked but didn’t love A Quiet Place: Day One. It became repetitive in the middle stretch, but the ending ultimately won me over and worked for me. As a cat person, I have to say that the cat acting is the best in a genre movie since Alien.
Three out of four stars.