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Film Review: A Quiet Place: Day One

PHOTO BY GARETH GATRELL / PARAMOUNT PICTURES

TThe first two Quiet Place films were thrilling exercises in science fiction that simultaneously explored a particular kind of dystopia and the cinematic potential of silence. While powerful, these films are more entertainment than art.

The prequel “A Quiet Place: Day One” is art. Sometimes it is profound.

That’s not to say the film isn’t entertaining; it certainly is, and it cleverly uses the gripping tension that the series loves. Day One surpasses its predecessors in its artful exploration of mortality and trauma – themes that are essential to the narrative but handled so delicately that the film avoids any trace of pretentiousness.

I thought “Day One” might be good; I didn’t expect it to be so moving.

We begin not in the silent wasteland of the previous films, but in a hospice outside of New York City. Sam (Lupita Nyong’o), dying of cancer at a young age and comforted only by her staff cat Frodo, reluctantly agrees to accompany a well-meaning nurse (Alex Wolff) to a matinee in the city. Not long after they arrive at the show – a puppet show that quickly evokes more emotion than Sam cares to feel – the monsters show up.

In the scenes that follow, inevitable echoes of 9/11 are felt, as bewildered bystanders gaze up at the fiery sky and survivors stumble through the streets covered in dust. Director and screenwriter Michael Sarnoski isn’t just interested in recalling the tragedy; he also reminds us that trauma lingers after impact, in ways far more insidious than the flashbacks and nightmares typical of cinematic thrillers.

These feelings are embodied by Eric (Joseph Quinn), a frightened law student who quickly takes a liking to Sam. After narrowly surviving the first onslaught by hiding underwater in a flooded subway station—and nearly drowning—he is unable to move on and timidly follows the confident Sam as she swims against the flow of people, quietly searching for rescue.

Sarnoski, who drew similar depth from a lofty premise in “Pig,” is remarkably poised and adept, drawing emotive performances from his actors and inescapable beauty from an eerie setting. As with “Pig,” part of the joy of “Day One” is how surprising its qualities are. I expected a certain level of cinematic tension; I was overwhelmed by beauty and tragedy. It’s a remarkable achievement.

My rating: 10/10

“A Quiet Place: Day One” is now in theaters.

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