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Lupita Nyong'o and Joseph Quinn in A Quiet Place Day One
Image via Paramount Pictures

Review: ‘A Quiet Place: Day One’ loudly sets Lupita Nyong’o up for another Oscar

Is the prequel to 'A Quiet Place' better than the original?

Starring Lupita Nyong’o in one of her best performances to date, A Quiet Place: Day One is a prequel that proves its franchise can keep expanding by treading a less-worn path in the post-apocalyptic subgenre.

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In 2018, A Quiet Place became an unexpected horror hit thanks to John Krasinski’s confident direction and the film’s somewhat unique concept of a world ravaged by blind creatures extremely sensitive to sound. While it’s fun to question how people would adapt to a permanent gag rule, A Quiet Place became an instant classic because it rightfully focused on the layered relationships of a family trying to rebuild their life after the end of the world. The sequel, A Quiet Place Part II, struggled to find the same balance, often putting worldbuilding ahead of character growth.

As a prequel set on the day when meteors brought savage aliens to Earth, there was a risk that A Quiet Place: Day One would depart from the formula and lean too heavily into explaining how the apocalypse came to be. Instead, Day One doubles down on everything that made the franchise’s first chapter so memorable.

A Quiet Place: Day One revolves around Sam (Nyong’o), a terminal cancer patient living her final days in a hospice. With nothing to expect from the future besides the cold embrace of death, Sam is trying to make the most of her remaining time. That’s why she agrees to join the hospice patients on an excursion to a theater in New York City so that she can grab a slice of proper pizza. Alas, fate is not kind to Sam, as the meteor shower that brings the alien invaders coincides with her city tour.

The fact that Sam is dying when the apocalypse begins gives her a unique perspective on the chaos spread by the alien creatures. There is an obvious parallel between Sam’s health condition and the danger represented by the creatures. Although humans like to think they are masters of their own destiny, life has a funny way of disrupting plans, causing accidents, and ending one’s journey long before they are ready to face the curtain’s closing. Sam’s cancer has forced her to face this uncomfortable truth, which is why her goals and desires remain mostly the same even when long-armed beasts are introduced into the equation.

While the script of A Quiet Place: Day One lacks genuine surprises, the movie still feels fresh thanks to Sam. Usually, post-apocalyptic stories are all about survival, which also leads to explorations of the dark pits of human nature. However, Sam is already past the point where survival is the most important thing, even before the cataclysmic event that sets the movie’s events into motion. As such, Day One becomes a surprisingly touching story about facing mortality on your own terms and finding meaning and companionship even in the worst possible situations. Yes, that’s right. While New York is under siege and buildings collapse left and right, the prequel prefers to be optimistic, an unusual — even if welcome — choice for post-apocalyptic media.

Lupita Nyong'o and Joseph Quinn with a cat in A Quiet Place Day One
Image via Paramount Pictures

By rewinding the clock, Day One can also explore aspects of the franchise A Quiet Place never could. The original duology is all about a family capable of using sign language who are predisposed to help each other in their time of need. In Day One, everyone is a stranger learning to deal with the aliens on the go, without years of experience. Each person who crosses Sam’s path represents a new challenge, as she must find ways of communicating without alerting the alien hunters. In some ways, then, Day One demands a lot more of its cast, who must convey complex messages using gestures and facial expressions.

The limitations of Day One when it comes to speech quickly become one of its biggest strengths, as Nyong’o uses every last drop of her talent, which is saying a lot. Her career is filled with magnificent performances, which already granted her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for 12 Years a Slave. If there was justice in Hollywood, the role of Sam would give Nyong’o at least an Oscar nomination. Sadly, her snub after Jordan Peele’s Us doesn’t allow us to be hopeful.

Nyong’o is not the only one to shine in A Quiet Place: Day One. Despite having a comparatively smaller role, Joseph Quinn as Eric is also a sight to behold. Traveling alongside Sam through the rubble-filled streets of New York, Eric allows her to confront the situation she’s in with an honesty that wouldn’t be possible if she were alone. Every interaction between Sam and Eric is worthwhile while also serving as a reminder that humans only reach their full potential when in a community. So, while Nyong’o is unquestionably the star of the show, Quinn helps elevate her presence on the silver screen, and at the same time, he leaves his mark on the franchise.

In addition to Nyong’o and Quinn, special praise must be given to Nico and Schnitzel. Never heard of these actors? Well, that’s because they are cats. The feline team impersonates Frodo, Sam’s pet, who follows her during the movie. The presence of a pet already increases the emotional stakes of a film because we are programmed to fear more for the fate of fluffy things than that of our kin. Nevertheless, even disregarding the intuitive appeal of adding a pet to a post-apocalyptic plot, Frodo is an actual character in A Quiet Place: Day One, with his own personality. Sam’s cat is a scene-stealer, and the fact that Day One managed to give so much charisma to a cat is impressive in itself.

Lupita Nyong'o and Djimon Hounsou in A Quiet Place Day One
Image via Paramount Pictures

There are some areas in which Day One is blatantly inferior to the first A Quiet Place. For starters, director Michael Sarnoski doesn’t use silence as effectively as Krasinski, who directed the original duology. That’s not to say Sarnoski is worse than Krasinski; they just have different styles. Still, since sound is so important for the franchise, it’s easy to notice the absence of more quiet moments.

The prequel is also tasked with expanding the lore of A Quiet Place, laying the groundwork for whatever A Quiet Place Part III turns out to be. Unfortunately, the lore gets in the way of the emotional development of Eric and Sam, as if it were an afterthought shoved into a movie it didn’t quite belong to.

Finally, Day One’s dramatic ambition comes at the cost of horror. The prequel is the least scary movie in the franchise, which will probably disappoint some fans. Part of the blame also falls on the reused creatures, which become less threatening the more we see and understand them.

In short, A Quiet Place: Day One is a flawed movie, for sure. Yet, it’s a beautiful addition to the franchise that serves as a new and exciting entry point for newcomers. Plus, Nyong’o’s performance alone would already be enough to justify going to the theater.

A Quiet Place: Day One
'A Quiet Place: Day One' is a gripping prequel that balances emotional depth with thrilling suspense. Lupita Nyong'o's standout performance and the film's fresh take on the franchise make it a must-watch, despite some predictable plot points.

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Marco Vito Oddo
Marco Vito Oddo is a writer, journalist, and amateur game designer. Passionate about superhero comic books, horror films, and indie games, he has his byline added to portals such as We Got This Covered, The Gamer, and Collider. When he's not working, Marco Vito is gaming, spending time with his dog, or writing fiction. Currently, he's working on a comic book project named Otherkin.