‘A Quiet Place: Day One’ Review: How Lupita Nyong’o Learned to Stop Worrying and Look for Pizza

If Michael Sarnoski’s serviceable sci-fi prequel has any new ideas, it’s keeping its mouth shut

Lupita Nyong'o in "A Quiet Place: Day One" (Paramount Pictures)

It’s been six years since John Krasinski’s sci-fi monster movie “A Quiet Place” debuted. If you want a refresher course, it was about a post-apocalyptic future where aliens landed on Earth and killed everyone who spoke above the slightest whisper. It’s a pretty scary movie until you realize these villains are basically evil space librarians, so when they’re not on camera they’re probably just doing a lot of filing.

The evil space librarians returned in “A Quiet Place: Part 2,” which mostly takes place after the original but also finally reveals what happened on day one of the alien invasion. So that makes the title of the new, third film “A Quiet Place: Day One” a lot less intriguing.

Krasinski takes a step back this time, bestowing the writing and directing duties on Michael Sarnoski (Krasinski still keeps a co-story credit). Sarnoski’s feature film debut “Pig” starred Nicolas Cage in one of the best roles of his career, as a man searching for his stolen truffle pig. There’s no truffle pig in “A Quiet Place: Day One” but there is a cat who leads people to plot points, locates stray characters and miraculously doesn’t meow once the entire film, even when space librarians are attacking or he gets dunked in cold water.

The cat, Frodo, is clearly the star of this film but Lupita Nyong’o has a better agent, so she gets all the big dramatic scenes. Nyong’o plays Samira, an embittered poet in hospice care who could die practically any day now. When a field trip to New York City gets interrupted by space librarians, Samira and Frodo survive the initial attack and figure out all the rules the audience already knows by now — the monsters can’t see, they attack anything they can hear, and they avoid running water, which conveniently comes along whenever the filmmakers need to cram in a dialogue scene.

Samira picks up a hapless British law student named Eric (Joseph Quinn, “Stranger Things”), who has no character traits to speak of. He just doesn’t want to be alone. So he joins Samira on her quest to have one last slice of pizza before she dies. It’s a quest that takes them from one deadly situation to another in pursuit of food that will have been sitting out for three days in New York City by the time they get to it, so the pizza will probably kill them even if the space librarians don’t.

We’re three films into the “A Quiet Place” franchise and for better or worse, they’ve avoided almost all temptation to expand on these monsters’ origins in any way. The good news is that they’re still mysterious and threatening. The bad news is that without any new wrinkles, these stories are getting repetitive. Lots of slow, quiet walking, lots of video game-ish problem solving, lots of accidental noises followed by furtive glances while our heroes wait to see if the monsters heard that (they did).

So although Michael Sarnoski does a respectable job of ratcheting silent tension, and a modest job of turning Samira’s pizza quest into a celebration of the human spirit, “A Quiet Place: Day One” has little to offer fans of the series unless they really, really wanted to download this New York City DLC. The best that can be said for “Day One” is that if this is your first “A Quiet Place,” you’ll probably get swept up in it, and want to watch the other two.

The worst that can be said is that if this your third “A Quiet Place,” you’ll probably wonder why they’re still bothering to make them if they have so little new to add. When real estate agents chant “location, location, location,” they aren’t giving advice about screenwriting. The old saying that audiences only want the same thing in a different way may or may not be true. But if it is true, the same thing needs to be a lot more different than this.

There’s nothing terribly wrong with “A Quiet Place: Day One” — except for the title, which needed a couple more days in it. Movies don’t necessarily need novelty to be good, and “A Quiet Place: Day One” puts that mentality to the test. It’s soundly constructed, Lupita Nyong’o and Joseph Quinn are lovable, and it’s got a cute cat in it so it couldn’t be all bad if it tried. But it’s also not trying to do anything ambitious or remarkable, so “good” is about as good as it can get.

A Paramount Pictures release, “A Quiet Place: Day One” opens exclusively in theaters on Friday, June 29.


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