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Give Hollywood a fun concept for a horror/sci-fi/thriller, and see it run to the ground for the next two decades. They can't help themselves to hold back from exploiting the carcass of a good idea. If someone builds a money-printing machine, then it needs to print money, dammit.

There is a caveat to this cynicism. In the right hands, a good universe is a canvas for a talented filmmaker to explore an idea that might’ve been missed the first time. When John Krasinski and his writers, Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, released the original A Quiet Place in 2018, he engineered every detail of the story and the characters to the concept. Several years after an invasion of monsters with heightened hearing, humans can only survive by staying completely quiet. In the first two films, we follow the Abbott family, who communicate through ASL, as they face two significant conundrums. In the first, the mother is heavily pregnant and faces giving birth in complete silence, and in the sequel, a search for a remnant of civilisation so they can reveal the secret to defeat the monsters. Where to go from here? To the past, of course.

A Quiet Place: Day One is not about how the monsters appeared, but how humans first reacted and quickly adapted to the invasion. The conduit is Samira (Lupita Nyong’o), a young poet with an undisclosed mental health condition on a trip to New York with her mental hospice when the attack first starts. While the rest of the population is trying to figure out how to find a safe haven, Samira, accompanied by her service cat Frodo, has just one thing in mind: if the world is going to end, she needs to have one last slice of pizza. On the way, she meets Eric (Joseph Quinn), a confused British law student alone in New York who needs company more than he needs to escape.

Credit is due to director Michael Sanorski, who also penned the script with Krasinski, who saw the story’s potential was not in trying to explain the origin of the monsters but in looking introspectively at our sense of loss. A Quiet Place: Day One is not a film about survival; it’s about coping and finding solace in our memories. I’ve been talking to a good friend of mine whose father recently passed away, which brought back memories of my own father’s passing. In a recent talk, we shared how one of the most hurtful things was the idea that there were still things left to do, that had we known this was going to happen, we would’ve taken the opportunity to have one last memory to share. It could be anything, even a slice of pizza.

That emotional depth runs through the film and is accentuated by Nyong’o’s expected pitch-perfect performance. You can make a bad film, but if you cast Nyong’o in it; it’s not a bad film anymore. She finds a way to portray Samira’s demons without revealing them. We never learn everything about her past, but we can see how it has shaped her life to the point she’s willing to face the apocalypse for one chance to remember it.

The problem is that Sanorski is also making a sci-fi/thriller, and A Quiet Place: Day One doesn’t add anything new. It’s like he’s not interested in the part he signed up for. None of the scenes of tension are as strong as in the first two films, and all of them are quickly resolved so Sanorksi can return to his happy place as a woman, finding her peace. There’s a scene that hints this film may be a tad more gruesome than expected, but it’s never followed up on. In another, he puts Eric in the middle of the belly of the beast but quickly lets him escape unscathed and with no story to tell. Even Frodo the cat, next to Nyong’o, is the film’s best performance, and it is never used to underline the tension. He never meows inopportunely; he comes and goes whenever he wants when Samira, Eric (and the audience) need a bit of comfort. He’s a good cat.

A Quiet Place: Day One is a good film that could’ve been much better, but also much worse. Sanorski’s previous film, Pig, was nothing short of fantastic. He is immensely talented and tends to explore lonely characters’ acting, reveling, and finding comfort in their loneliness. In those moments, A Quiet Place: Day One excels even above the first two. But we’re still in the territory of a B-movie schlockfest, whether the film likes it or not. And, at the risk of entering spoilers territory, I think it’s essential to disclose the cat survives.

Verdict: 3 out of 5

For those who liked the first two films and want more of that world.