A Quiet Place: Day One Is—Quietly—The Best Blockbuster of the Summer So Far

The following article contains minor spoilers for A Quiet Place: Day One.

New York City has been obliterated by fireballs. From the wounds emerge towering alien monstrosities who, like a biblical plague of locusts, descend on and rip to pieces anything that audibly moves. In a matter of hours, the world has gone to shit. People cower in churches, under the sound-covering streams of water fountains, inside theaters and subway stations, frozen in fear. It’s like a twisted kid’s game: speak above a whisper, break glass under your shoe, or tear your shirt, and you’re dead. Ironic, for one of the world’s loudest cities, whose ambient noise level usually registers around 90 decibels—or as the film puts it in its opening title card, “the sound of a constant scream.”

The first two Quiet Place films are delightfully scary genre flicks that teem with suspense, terror, and interpersonal drama. In the first one, a small family strives to survive the attacks of blind, bloodthirsty aliens in a remote farmhouse. The sequel follows the same family, led by mom Evelyn (Emily Blunt) after the death of dad Lee (John Krasinski), as they venture out into the wasteland in search of a new Utopia. And for better or worse, you could always feel the budget: These films are small, both in stakes and scale. This often works for horror, which is why the genre is a go-to for debut filmmakers trying to make something with a bit of string and a dream. As Steven Spielberg proved with Jaws, and Hitchcock with Psycho, you don’t need lavish effects to scare people.

So A Quiet Place: Day One feels like the first proper blockbuster the franchise has produced, in many ways, and that’s largely down to the locale. The Big Apple looms large in the background of effects-heavy shots detailing its destruction. When the aliens arrive, hero Sam (Lupita Nyong’o) is on a trip downtown, amid the loud hustle and bustle of the New York crowds, on their endless march, shopping, consuming, talking, shouting, calling, darting in front of yellow cabs that blare their horns, covering their ears from the shrieking of passing sirens. Fertile grounds for a feeding frenzy. When the world starts to end, it is abrupt and covered in a thick cloud of ash. Even all these years later, it’s hard not to think of news footage from ground zero of 9/11—or films like Spielberg’s profoundly 9/11-informed remake of War of the Worlds—which is probably the point.

It’s about 95 minutes not including the credits, which feels about perfect for a film that keeps you on your toes. I spent the entire thing variously squeezing the bottom of my shirt to quell my nerves, as you might a pillow at home, or throwing my hands in front of my face and/or mouth in shock. (There are at least a half-dozen jumpscares, so avoid the movie if that isn’t your thing.)

But it balances out the scares with ample humor and heart. Joseph Quinn appears midway through as Eric, a discombobulated law student from Kent who joins Sam on her quest to find the world’s last slice from a pizzeria in Harlem, which sounds stupid until you discover why she’s so obsessed. What director Michael Sarnoski—who won this gig on the strength of his brilliant debut Pig, in which Nicolas Cage plays a washed-up chef tracking down the men who stole his prized truffle hog— nails is the balance between the people at Day One’s core and the grander green-screened war around them. It hums with emotion in all the right places. And then there’s Sam’s cat, effortlessly serving feline cuteness.

These are all of the ingredients of a blockbuster that will end up making the big bucks, mind: not only is it technically well-made, it makes you feel things, which is why people still go to the movies, by and large—such is why horror movies still sell so well, because we enjoy the communal experience of getting shit-scared. Sure, the internal logic of the movie might be a little distracting, as it is for the first two, but it’s a movie, and if you can suspend your disbelief to the extent that a strikeforce of blind aliens destroying the world is plausible, you can also accept that some kitties just don’t meow. Maybe our ears aren’t quite tuned to it now, but in a summer of horror, expect the impact of nü Quiet Place to be loud.

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