• Sat. Jul 20th, 2024

Movie Curiosities

The online diary of an aspiring movie nerd

As I was saying a month ago, nobody gives a shit about the aliens in A Quiet Place. They are only important as a plot device to serve the basic premise, and a means of exploring the franchise themes. Nobody wants to know what they are or where they came from or why they’re here. It would only be a distraction from what really matters. Nobody fucking cares.

This left me greatly disturbed by the ad campaigns for A Quiet Place: Day One, especially with franchise mastermind John Krasinski handing the reins over to a new director. Granted, the new director was Michael Sarnoski, who crafted the elegant and elegiac masterpiece of Portland-based cinema and latter-day Nicolas Cage, Pig. Even so, this film was heavily, HEAVILY marketed as the origin story to explain the alien invasion that kicks off the whole franchise.

I’m reminded of the old tenet that the trailers show you the movie the studio execs wish they had. If that’s true, we should all be grateful that the goofballs at Paramount entrusted the actual filmmaking to wiser and more talented storytellers.

I’m sincerely happy to report that there is no exposition whatsoever about the lore or backstory or motivation of the aliens. They crash-land on Earth, everybody figures out pretty much immediately that they’re attracted to sound, and we’re off to the races. Easily the single most important thing this movie gets right is that going back to Day One isn’t a means of overexplaining the premise, but a means of exploring the relevant franchise themes from many intriguing new angles.

With the first two movies, we focused on a tight-knit family that had been living together for a while in their own custom-made bunker out in the woods. They had become accustomed to the new world wiped clean by blind predators with hypersensitive hearing. This scenario is pretty much the exact opposite.

Here, we’ve got an entire city full of people building a new status quo on the fly. People who had to shelter in place and throw together whatever just happened to be nearby when disaster struck. These aren’t families or blood relatives helping each other, these are total strangers made into lifelong war buddies by the fate of being thrust together in horrifying circumstances. Even as they’re mourning the fresh loss of their families and former lives, hit with that first initial wave of existential panic.

And they have to do all of this without making a sound. They don’t have the option to scream or cry or call out to their loved ones or even talk about what they’re going through. Hell, they can’t even find relief in telling stories or watching movies or playing music. All of this is well in keeping with what made the first film so ingenious, but expanding these themes to the scale of NYC gives them a whole new perspective.

To wit, consider the logistics of traveling someplace cleared from all hostiles and defensible against the invading threat. In both of the prior movies (most especially the second), this was a significant part of the plot. But traveling as a small family unit is one thing. An entire city-wide exodus will inevitably be slower and noisier, with more people to cause bloody screaming panic when things inevitably go wrong.

And what of our main characters? Well, Lupita Nyong’o headlines, and of course she’s impossibly talented enough to carry a film with limited use of her voice. She plays Sam, a terminal cancer patient who was living in hospice at the time of the invasion. So, remember that moment in the trailer when she says her cat is a service cat? That wasn’t a joke or a sardonic rejoinder, she really does carry a service cat.

Speaking of which, Frodo is uniquely qualified to survive the alien invasion because he was specifically trained and bred to stay quiet and calm in the most harrowing of scenarios. He’s a smart, sweet, handsome kitty. Such a good boy. And yes, I’m happy to report that — somehow, improbably, by whatever fucking miracle — the cat makes it out alive and unharmed.

Anyway, Sam’s whole deal is that she’s terminally ill and she knows she’s on the verge of dying. So what’s her motivation in this story? She wants to go to Harlem and get a slice of pizza. Yes, seriously. That’s it. She knows it’s the end of the world and she wants to get one last slice of pizza before there’s no more pizza anywhere left in the world. Yes, it’s Tallahassee with the Twinkies in Zombieland, but played totally straight.

On first impression, this seems like a pathetically weak protagonist with too flimsy a motivation to carry a survival horror. But on further reflection, there are a number of reasons why it works. For one thing, this whole setup makes Sam emblematic of the entire human race: She’s living her last days and she knows it, so her only concern is living long enough to help others and find whatever beauty and happiness is possible in these final moments.

Oh, and by the way, this is a prequel. We know for a fact that Sam won’t be around for either of the two existing movies. I can respect a prequel that leans into the limitation, stating right up front and weaving it directly into the plot that our lead character will be dead by the end.

I should also add that Harlem is the neighborhood where Sam grew up. In effect, Sam wants to go back to Harlem so she can reconnect with her childhood and her deceased family in her final moments. As a reminder, this entire franchise started with a father watching his young son get eaten right in front of him. Everything about Sam and her arc are well in keeping with the established franchise themes of family and mortality, but these themes are explored and developed from a new approach that wouldn’t be possible with the Abbotts.

There are a handful of supporting characters who drift in and out of the film. Easily the most prominent is Eric (Joseph Quinn), who doesn’t really show up until the second half. Even then, he mostly sticks around because he’s afraid of dying alone. A bit flimsy, but considering how unlikely partners and humanity’s innate need for company are recurring staples of the genre, we’ll allow it. Of course it helps that Eric’s involvement pays off in a big way, with a deeply moving and inspired scene of comic relief in the third act.

Djimon Hounsou is here, though he may as well not be. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always grateful to see Hounsou get more work, especially now that Lance Reddick is dead. Sorry, I miss Lance Reddick, may he rest in peace, but somebody has to fill the void he left behind and Hounsou is more than qualified. Back to the point, Hounsou’s connection with the second film is gossamer thin and this movie frankly didn’t need any such callbacks.

The other supporting character of note is Reuben, a nurse played by Alex Wolff. He’s there to get Sam to NYC… and that’s about it.

The scares were nicely effective on the whole, but not up to the quality of previous films. We got a cheap and worthless nightmare jump scare, that certainly didn’t help. But more importantly, the film tends to lean too much on the score by Alexis Grapsas. It takes away from the central conceit when we’re literally waiting for the other shoe to make a noisy fatal drop while we’re also listening to a violin wail. Yes, we do get plenty of those signature dead quiet scenes, I just wish they had been done more consistently and confidently.

Overall, A Quiet Place: Day One is improbably excellent. The horror and suspense might be a touch below the franchise standard, but it’s still solid compared to most other films and the action is serviceably exciting. But what really matters here is the human element. This has always been a series that lives and dies on thoughtful examination of the human condition through its innovative gimmick, both of which are beautifully served with this prequel. This is a movie we didn’t want or know we needed, built on a blatantly stupid premise, but it turned out to be a legitimately insightful and heartfelt and entertaining film. It’s not just a good film on its own merit, this one builds on what came before, augmenting everything that made the previous films good in a way that could only be done by exploring a new plotline and new characters.

I can’t believe this actually worked, but I’m so happy it did. And because it’s a prequel with no worthwhile tie-ins or callbacks to the first two films, you can enjoy this without any memory or opinion of the first two films. Definitely check this one out.

By Curiosity Inc.

I hold a B.S. in Bioinformatics, the only one from Pacific University's Class of '09. I was the stage-hand-in-chief of my high school drama department and I'm a bass drummer for the Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers. I dabble in video games and I'm still pretty good at DDR. My primary hobby is going online for upcoming movie news. I am a movie buff, a movie nerd, whatever you want to call it. Comic books are another hobby, but I'm not talking about Superman or Spider-Man or those books that number in the triple-digits. I'm talking about Watchmen, Preacher, Sandman, etc. Self-contained, dramatic, intellectual stories that couldn't be accomplished in any other medium. I'm a proud son of Oregon, born and raised here. I've been just about everywhere in North and Central America and I love it right here.

Leave a Reply