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‘A Quiet Place: Day One’ review: Emotional depth gets lost in the noise

Ryan Oquiza

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‘A Quiet Place: Day One’ review: Emotional depth gets lost in the noise

Paramount Pictures' YouTube

Gone were the potentially riveting scenes where people learn to outsmart the monsters. We missed the chaos of people screaming because they had no idea what to do.

This review contains minor spoilers.

It’s unusual for a genre film to be set in New York and for it to make sense, as these two things are often seen as mutually exclusive. The most common guilt that blockbuster films manifest is using New York simply for aesthetic reasons; it’s iconic, the most famous city in the world, and action scenes tend to look more metropolitan. But, does it really make sense for it to take place in New York? 

Why are villains invading and heroes parading in this dense melting pot of a city instead of the most populated places on earth, such as India or China? While the answer is undoubtedly American heliocentrism, it does not excuse the unexplainable East Coast favoritism of many fictional characters. I’m of the opinion that this demands a bare-minimum explanation, a creative reason to at least pretend like there is a purpose to having New York as a setting.

Which is why it’s disarming, and admittedly satisfying, to see a film start out by making the bold claim that there is, in fact, a very good reason why A Quiet Place: Day One is set in New York.

The intertitle starts out with a brooding fun fact: New York gives off an average of 90 decibels, which is equivalent to the sound of a constant scream. 

In just a couple of lines (and some smart sound design), those aware of A Quiet Place’s horror rules are immediately put on high alert, and those who are unaware are now compelled to fixate on the peril of noise. If you haven’t caught up yet, the extraterrestrial creatures that serve as flesh-eating monsters are attracted to sound, and if loud enough, will almost always lead to one’s death.

Day One tracks the beginning of their invasion, and what better place to begin than in the Big Apple? Each honk, each siren, and each rumble from the subway tracks are suddenly amplified, no longer background noise to ignore. 

Conceptually, this is genius. Put the monsters whose source of terror is noise in one of the noisiest places imaginable. Since the film takes place in a time when these creatures are still foreign to humans, you’ll be able to witness how helpless people felt with nary a kryptonite shielding them. 

People will die to the creatures, and eventually, people will learn, adapt, and reach the point where they can cohabitate with these monsters, like what we saw in the first two A Quiet Place films. 

Day One does do those things in its first few minutes, showcasing the utter defeat that humans suffered due to the unrelenting nature of the first attacks. With Lupita Nyong’o’s Sam as our point-of-view character, we also get a gripping angle: a terminally-ill cancer patient, now forced into a life-or-death situation.

These were the makings of a sure-fire horror hit, but for some inexplicable reason, the film seems to have developed an aversion to its New York concept and skims through it. This, unfortunately, was its biggest flaw. After the big meteor full of monsters hits the city, there are a few minutes of bloodshed, and then a big fat black screen hits us. When Sam wakes up, suddenly, everyone knows how to properly deal with the monsters. What?!

Gone were the potentially riveting scenes where people learn to outsmart the monsters. We missed the chaos of people screaming because they had no idea what to do. What’s frustrating is that in the one scene where we do get panic on the streets, it comes during a moment when people should have already known better.

What always fascinated me about the Quiet Place films is how society adjusted to the presence of such vicious creatures. Seeing the sound-proof bedchamber for Emily Blunt’s character was part of the intrigue, as was the visit to a waterfall where a father and son could have a moment to shout without repercussions.

Here, it seems everyone already knows what to do after the opening sequence. People are already ensconced in sources of water, and they quickly realize that setting off cars would be great distractions. For once in horror movies — and I can’t believe I’m actually saying this — I wish the people were dumber, if only because the process of them figuring out how to survive would have been immensely interesting.

In the film’s defense, maybe it wasn’t going for that. When Joseph Quinn’s Eric arrives, the film shifts to the heartfelt companionship between him and Sam, which becomes its apex. A shell-shocked law student, Eric is alone and desperate for someone to accompany him and alleviate his panic attacks. And pretty soon, we circle back to Sam’s ultimate goal from the start, a desire (which I will not be spoiling) that seems so benign yet so profoundly existential.

Lupita Nyong’o and Joseph Quinn both give terrific performances that make you wish the two were paired earlier. The emotional payoffs work between the two despite the obvious scarcity of dialogue because their bond becomes a visceral game of survival, magnified by their careful physicality, teary eyes, and stifled breathing.

Maybe the fleetingness of the two’s interactions serves to make the ending feel more weighty. They are both strangers to each other, drawn together by circumstance (or an adorable cat), and I have to believe that there is some beauty in the fact that they try to save each other anyway. They had no reason to do any of the kindnesses that they do for each other, yet they did.

That is where the film finds its strength — not through its death and chaos, but in rediscovering the reasons to keep on living. –

‘A Quiet Place: Day One’ is now showing in Philippine cinemas nationwide.

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Ryan Oquiza

Ryan Oquiza is a film critic for Rappler and has contributed articles to CNN Philippines Life, Washington City Paper, and PhilSTAR Life.