Thursday, June 27, 2024

A tense new 'Quiet Place' movie


  Did we really need a prequel to 2018's clever, scary A Quiet Place, which had a sequel in 2021?
  Probably not, but we have one now, and director Michael Sarnoski, who debuted with the impressive Nicolas Cage movie, The Pig, makes the most of it. Sarnoski overloads A Quiet Place: Day One with stomping, leaping aliens, and turns his plot into a swift straight-line affair, sustaining high-pitched tension throughout.
   I wouldn’t say the movie is a classic of its kind. But Sarnoski, with help from his creative sound design and effects teams, fills a fleet 99 minutes with the high-anxiety stress movies such as this are meant to deliver.
  Day One begins with a title card informing us that the daily noise level in New York City averages 90 decibels, which explains why aliens attracted to loud sounds might seek it out. The aliens don't tiptoe around, either. Their screeching and smashing ways boost both the city's and the movie’s noise levels.
  Any success the movie attains qualifies as improbable. We don’t know what the invading aliens want or why they've come. We’ve seen computer-generated urban destruction before, and we know the alien MO from previous movies. 
    Fortunately for Sarnoski, the urban setting provides a new playground for the aliens. A scene in which ash-covered New Yorkers walk zombie-like through streets evokes memories of 9/11, one line in the grim poetry of destruction.
   Dropping an animal into the mayhem might seem like a cheap bid for sentiment, but Sarnoski fully embraces it. A pet cat — cutely named Yoda — belongs to Lupita Nyong’o's Samira, a hospice patient with terminal cancer. 
    Samira can't beat cancer, but maybe she can outlive the alien onslaught, and, at least, save her cat.
     Samira soon meets a fellow traveler. Dazed and bewildered, Eric (Joseph Quinn) follows Samira despite her desire to be left alone. The two develop a relationship, and a major set piece involves Eric's attempt to secure a transdermal fentanyl patch to relieve Samira's pain.
    And, yes, without many words, the actors must use their faces in the ways silent film stars might have. Nyong'o proves more than up to the task.
   Attempts at humor are marginal. Samira introduces a running joke about her desire to find a slice of New York pizza, which she prizes above any other variety, a subject audiences can debate on their way to the parking lot.
      As fast as the movie moves, there's still time to wonder about a few things. Why, for example, does Eric never remove his tie, even amid so much physical trauma? What keeps the white of Yoda's fur from ever seeming dirty?
     I've read that Yoda is played by two cats that prove that some cats do have nine lives — at least in movies that are less committed to pinpoint logic than to maintaining the intensity that results from knowing terror is seldom more than a beat away.

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