Saturday 29 June 2024

A Quiet Place: Day One (Movie Review)

From the moment that A Quiet Place had turned into the surprise hit of 2018, it was fated to become yet another horror franchise for studios to exploit. So you can imagine my surprise when its follow-up, A Quiet Place Part II, had somehow managed to replicate its winning formula without feeling like a mere rehash. But does the latest entry in the series, A Quiet Place: Day One, recapture the essence of those first two movies or has the franchise started to succumb to the laws of diminishing returns?

The new film functions as both a prequel and a spinoff, as it shifts its focus from the Abbott family in favor of a pair of new survivors, Sam and Eric (played by Lupita Nyong'o and Joseph Quinn respectively). And as the title alludes, it also focuses on the first days of the arrival of the creatures dubbed death angels by many. Both must navigate the many dangers and horrors that await them in the ravaged streets of an apocalyptic New York City, as they try to survive the onslaught of aliens lurking around every corner.

Prior to watching A Quiet Place: Day One, I must admit that I had developed a healthy dose of skepticism at the mere announcement of the project. Not only were we no longer following the story of the surviving members of the Abbott family, who we've grown to love and care about over the course of two brilliant films, but it was also covering old ground by depicting events that took place on Day 1 of the alien infestation. Then there were the trailers as well which made the film look like a considerable departure from the close-quarter thrills of the first two films.

I say all this to drive home the fact that I was already predisposed to being disappointed by the movie. But I had still done my best to keep an open mind, believing that the movie would at least manage to justify its own existence. And now that I have finally seen the film, I can say that I am equal parts relieved while still being somewhat let down by the story they'd chosen to tell. I was relieved that my concerns following the trailers had been mostly unfounded, as the movie delivered the kind of tense encounters that were worthy of the "A Quiet Place" name.

But my disappointment is due to the fact that the movie simply lacks the same emotional weight I had felt while watching the prior films, and most of that stems from its new leads being nowhere as endearing as those that came before. Lupita does an admirable job as Sam but her performance never quite rises to the same level of brilliance she had shown in a film like Us. The same can be said of Joseph Quinn, who shows none of the charisma and bravado he had shown in the brilliant fourth season of Stranger Things.

I acknowledge that none of these things are a fault of the actors I mentioned, as I'm sure they'd played their characters to perfection as written in the script. The problem is with the characters themselves and the film's inability to make me care about their plight. The first two films gave us protagonists we could immediately care about because of how relatable each member of the Abbott family seemed. The same cannot be said of Sam and Eric, who more often than not felt more like overused Hollywood archetypes rather than living, breathing human beings.

With most of the negative stuff out of the way, I must equally acknowledge all the things I felt the movie manages to get right. Chief among these are the various alien encounters. The death angels felt like an ever-present threat for the most part rather than the glob of CGI creatures the trailers had made them out to be. I was pleased to see most of the action the trailers were filled with take a back seat in favor of actual horror and some effective jump scares.

I also loved the look of the film's New York setting, with its fog-filled streets lending it an otherworldly feel that only helped to heighten the tension. And this is when the film works best, when it has us holding our breaths in anticipation of the next unexpected appearance by its true stars, the hideous aliens that retain their status as nightmare fuel. It's just a shame that that tension never gets dialed up to eleven like in the first two films, held back as it was by a lack of compelling leads and some rather questionable writing choices.

A Quiet Place: Day One is the kind of film a franchise produces once it has started to run out of steam. After all, there are only so many times you can reuse the same basic premise before it starts to feel kind of stale. Add in the fact that the film tends to get heavy-handed with its handling of some of the more sensitive aspects of its subject matter and you start to understand why it might not be for everyone. And while it offers its own share of close-quarter thrills and some very cool highlights, the overall movie lacks the emotional pull that helped elevate prior entries.