A Quiet Place: Day One review – Lupita Nyong’o prequel is the most emotionally satisfying in the series

A Quiet Place: Day One review – Lupita Nyong’o prequel is the most emotionally satisfying in the series

A Quiet Place choosing to board the “intimate horror of Alien to blast-em-up action of Aliens” pipeline robbed the franchise of its fear factor. Between the dual efforts directed by John Krasinski in 2018 and 2020, we’ve had far too much time to stare into those blooming onion mouths and eyeless, extraterrestrial features and realise the villains here are really just the demogorgons from Stranger Things if they’d been rendered by a Cubist. Thankfully, the third instalment of the franchise, and its first prequel, seems to know this.

A Quiet Place: Day One has embraced the idea of this series as the Takeshi’s Castle of being as silent as possible. It’s not scary anymore, but it’s stressful in the way that makes you dig your nails into your palm, as you watch a guy try to dislodge a briefcase from a pair of revolving doors without sending the whole thing clattering across the floor. A single noise, and he’ll be snatched away by aliens with as much sudden, unceremonious brutality as a belly flop into a swimming pool.

The film is written and directed by Michael Sarnoski, who worked with a quiet-mode Nicolas Cage to such beautiful effect in 2021’s Pig. Here, we’ve shifted out of the forests of upstate New York and into the city itself, on the very first day the aliens landed and calamity struck. It’s a well-constructed nightmare, as the initial confusion, where divine punishment comes for those brave enough to cry out, stumbles towards its first rules.

Authorities, at first, seem more concerned with containment than with rescue. That seems pretty realistic. So do their (as we soon realise, thoughtless) instructions to the masses. But Sarnoski, more crucially, has shifted the focus away from the values of survival, family, and community that shaped Krasinski’s films, and towards something more nihilistic yet affecting. A Quiet Place: Day One can’t boast the freshness of concept of the first film, but, in pure emotional payoff, it’s the most satisfying of the series.

The transformative choice here is to have a protagonist who already lives with their face turned to death. Sam (Lupita Nyong’o) has terminal cancer. She’s not saintly about it. She’s angry, tired, and in pain. Her service cat Frodo (the cutest feline in recent celluloid memory, played by two cats named Schnitzel and Nico) curls up in her arms. When she’s dragged to a marionette show by her hospice carer (Alex Wolff), she complains about it. When the apocalypse arrives, she just wants a slice of pizza.

It’s all very relatable – even more so when she’s joined by British law student Eric (Joseph Quinn of, ironically, Stranger Things fame), a mascot for anyone who tends to latch onto the first person they meet at an event, and who breathes loudly when stressed. Djimon Hounsou briefly returns as Henri from Part II, but it’s a pointless bit of connectivity – mostly, Day One is a superbly cast two-hander, shared between one established star and one up-and-comer, both with big, soulful eyes and open-wound hearts.

Nyong’o’s work in Jordan Peele’s doppelganger horror Us felt leagues apart from anything we could casually term “scream queen”. She returns to that same territory here, concentrating all the primal terror of a scream into a single tear rolling down her cheek. Quinn, meanwhile, finds tenderness at the end of the world, reminding us that a kindness as simple as performing a magic trick to put a smile on a stranger’s face can feel like an act of bravery. Of course, then you have to factor in the cat. And A Quiet Place: Day One knows there’s nothing more stressful than trying to anticipate the inscrutable sociopathy of felines.

Dir: Michael Sarnoski. Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Joseph Quinn, Alex Wolff, Djimon Hounsou. 15, 99 mins.

‘A Quiet Place: Day One’ is in cinemas