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‘Day One’ examines the lust for life at death’s doorstep

“A Quiet Place: Day One” (2024). Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Joseph Quinn, Alex Wolff, Djimon Honsou, Schnitzel the cat, Nico the cat. Director: Michael Sarnoski. Screenplay: Michael Sarnoski. Story: John Krasinski and Michael Sarnoski. Characters: Bryan Woods and Scott Beck. Web site. Trailer.

There are times in life when what we crave most is, regrettably, not available to us. That’s particularly true for those on death’s doorstep. While individuals experiencing such circumstances may understand and even accept the inevitability of the fate they face, there may still be a part of them that wants or needs to hold on, perhaps to complete unfinished business, address a task that has not yet been tackled or ensure the care and well-being of others. Those conditions may provide enough motivation to carry on, despite the difficulties involved. And doing so could be so essential to them that the failure to succeed in these endeavors might prevent these individuals from being able to rest in peace. Those are among the themes explored in the moving new smart horror offering, “A Quiet Place: Day One.”

Terminally ill poet Samira (a.k.a. Sam) (Lupita Nyong’o) is in the final stages of cancer. She resides with her support cat, Frodo (Schnitzel the cat, Nico the cat), in a hospice facility outside of New York City. She’s in a great deal of pain and severely depressed about what’s approaching. In many respects, she has little hope for the future, even losing interest in writing the poetry that was once a quintessential part of her being. In fact, Sam’s depleted health and despondent mood have left her so weakened and disengaged that she’s only willing to agree to certain suggestions from staff members unless her demands are met. Sam’s conditions may not seem particularly significant, but they’re nevertheless important to her, as they’re about all she can handle (or look forward to) anymore.

In an attempt to lift her spirits, one of the hospice caregivers, Reuben (Alex Wolff), tries to convince Sam to join other residents for an outing in the city to attend a marionette show. She’s hesitant, but she agrees to go along if the staff agrees to take her out for pizza after the show, terms that are amenable to the caregivers. And so Sam, accompanied by Frodo, is on her way to a day in New York.

However, as the bus that carries residents into the city begins its journey, strange occurrences begin to take place, such as the appearance of fighter jets in the sky. But, despite these unusual developments, the bus continues on its way to the theater. Once inside, though, the strangeness escalates, with loud explosions occurring outdoors and the image of what appear to be meteors falling from the sky. Military vehicles fill the streets, too. It quickly becomes obvious that something is seriously amiss.

The source of the trouble surfaces not long thereafter – the appearance of gruesome, reptilian-like creatures. Viewers who have seen the two previous films in this franchise will immediately recognize them as the alien invaders who have come to earth to prey on humanity. And, as in those two prior installments, the creatures are blind but possess an acute sense of hearing, hunting by way of sound.

As all of this is new to the residents of New York, they don’t know how to respond, quickly falling victim to the invaders whenever they make any kind of a sound. Meanwhile, as Sam, Frodo and Reuben seek safety for themselves, they manage to adapt surprisingly fast, though they soon discover that even the slightest slip-up in remaining silent can prove deadly.

In the wake of the initial devastation, Sam encounters survivors who have managed to figure out the secret of staying alive. They quietly shuffle through the streets of Manhattan heading toward the South Street Seaport, following instructions broadcast by officials from helicopters flying overhead. Authorities have learned that the creatures can’t swim, so survivors are being evacuated by boat, especially now that the military has destroyed all of the bridges leading into Manhattan to keep the aliens from being able to migrate off the island. At last a ray of hope emerges.

But, despite these official advisories, Sam disregards them. Instead of traveling south to the awaiting boats, she heads north toward her old apartment in hopes of finding pain medication that she may have left behind before moving into the hospice. Along the way, she’s joined by an unexpected companion – Eric (Joseph Quinn), a young Englishman who relocated to New York to attend law school. He’s severely shaken by what’s happened yet has miraculously found a way to keep himself alive, thanks in large part to Frodo, who led him to Sam and safety in a temporary hiding place.

The unlikely trio of English law student, Eric (Joseph Quinn, left), terminally ill poet, Samira (a.k.a. Sam) (Lupita Nyong’o, right), and Frodo, the comfort cat (Schnitzel/Nico, center), seeks shelter from an invasion of aliens in New York in the thoughtful and engaging new smart horror release, “A Quiet Place: Day One,” now playing theatrically. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Thus begins the journey of an unlikely trio trying to navigate the vastly changed New York landscape. Their odyssey is an interesting one as they seek to stay alive at all costs, quite an irony for Sam given the state of her health and outlook. She takes advantage of these circumstances to assess her conditions and to determine what she needs and wants to do with whatever time she has left. Considering the aliens’ presence, she could succumb to them at any time, a condition not unlike what she has had to learn how to contend with in the wake of her illness. She’s also concerned for the well-being of her companions, Eric and Frodo, both of whom could well have futures ahead of them if they have the courage and will to survive, qualities that, based on her own experience, she might be able to help them bolster for themselves.

But can Sam muster up the strength and fortitude she needs to accomplish this, particularly with death all around her? She must ask herself how badly she wants that and then take the steps necessary to achieve it. With the resources she requires for this at a premium, can she gather them together at a time when she needs them most? Her life – and those of whom she’s come to care about most – depend on it. But, if she succeeds at this, she just might get everything she wants – even that pizza she wanted before heading into New York.

When emergency situations like this arise, we’re often tasked with having to think on our feet. We likely don’t have much time to respond to the circumstances we face, and that can make things difficult when it comes to creating the best outcomes for ourselves. That’s especially true in situations where we’re already faced with trying conditions. How do we balance everything around us? It can be overwhelming, to say the least, and, given what Sam is going through, she can certainly attest to that.

In scenarios like this, our beliefs can play a particularly crucial role in determining how things turn out, as they generally determine what results, even under less dire conditions, thanks to the conscious creation process, the philosophy responsible for the materialization of these manifestations. But, when we’re faced with having to make quick decisions, as in a situation like this, it helps to have a firm grasp over these resources and allow them to take over for us in a pinch, almost as if we’re putting them on autopilot to get us through these challenges. It’s unclear how many of us are aware of this line of thinking, but, at times like this, we had better hope we have a good handle on it, as it just might save our lives.

This is vital to Sam, given that death’s presence has been all around her for some time, even before the aliens invaded. It has been weighing heavily on her, too, consuming much of her attention and will to live, arguably preventing her from making the most of whatever time she has left in terms of wrapping up her affairs, making a difference in what remains of her existence and addressing the needs of those she cares about. The scenario playing out around her in many ways forces her hand, pushing her to focus on what’s most important, setting priorities and creating the means to address them under the prevailing circumstances.

In essence, Sam is being forced to “get busy,” to tap into her toolkit of beliefs to accomplish what she seeks to do while she has the chance. Ironically, she’s coerced into embracing a lust for life at a time when she’s already on death’s doorstep, only now there’s been a sense of urgency added to the mix, prompting her to draw upon her personal wherewithal to achieve what she most wants to undertake and successfully complete. Admittedly, there can be a great deal of self-imposed pressure associated with this, but an impending deadline can provide a tremendous degree of motivation, impelling us to get the job done, especially if we hope to pass on with the satisfaction we believe we’ll need to be able to rest in peace.

Fortunately, Sam has drawn valuable assistance into her life to carry out this eleventh hour mission. Frodo, for example, frequently leads her to where she needs to be to stay safe and productive in accomplishing these last-minute goals. It’s almost as if the loyal feline has an intuitive sense of guiding Sam to the right resources for carrying out these tasks.

Likewise, Eric’s presence helps to revive Sam’s awareness of the vitality she possessed in her old life before she got sick. He also provides her with an opportunity to help him develop the kind of courage that he will now need to carry on under the conditions of the new normal, something she undoubtedly had to learn how to do for herself when she received her cancer diagnosis. Being able to help teach him that gives her a sense of purpose during the waning days of her life, something we all need as a fundamental part of our existence, even (and perhaps especially) when the end is near. She thus passes along a gift to him in exchange for the assistance he provides in helping her stay safe in the midst of this ordeal – and to help comfort her through the one that she’s already been experiencing for some time.

Facing our mortality might not be one of the most pleasant experiences we go through in life, but, if we can embrace an outlook that allows us to remember what life was like when it was good, we can approach this inevitability with a sense of inner peace that might not otherwise be in place. The beliefs associated with that can help enable an exit from the earthly plane characterized by gratitude for having had the experience of life in physical existence, a sense of appreciation that may well help to make the upcoming transition one that’s more filled with joy and thankfulness than one brimming with dread and despair.

Smart horror films are one movie genre of which not nearly enough offerings are produced. These pictures are proof positive that edgy, spooky stories can be successfully made without having to kill off the entire cast or engage in spectacles of gratuitous gore. The works of filmmakers like Jordan Peele and Alex Garland exemplify this, as do the three releases in this impressive franchise. And this latest entry is, without a doubt, the best of the lot. “Day One” not only draws upon the mythology introduced in the series’ first two films, but it takes matters in a new, more profound direction and does so, ironically, by way of a prequel going back to the origin of this gripping, ongoing saga.

What separates this film from its predecessors, however, is that it presents yet another story in the franchise but from an entirely new angle, with new characters, a new setting, and a new, more insightful, more nuanced focus. Instead of small-town America, where the first two pictures were set, this offering takes place in New York City, showing what happens when the Big Apple is attacked by the now-familiar aliens that hunt by way of sound and the measures that surviving humans must take to stay silent to keep from being spotted. In telling this story, the film also examines the perils of having to suddenly adjust to a “new normal” under unpredictable conditions, as well as the need for all of us to pull together in a united front in the wake of these trying circumstances, tasks we all had to deal with ourselves not all that long ago. But there’s more to it than that, including metaphorical themes and symbolic imagery that truly make this more than just a horror film (and even more than just a smart horror movie at that). While it’s true the story meanders somewhat at times, it nevertheless presents viewers with a thoughtful tale, punctuated by excellent camera work, a fine soundtrack, and a superb, award-worthy performance by Nyong’o. Even if you haven’t seen the two previous films in this series or don’t ordinarily have much interest in this genre, writer-director Michael Sarnoski’s second feature outing is well worth your time. It’s a smart, smart, smart film that rises far above what one might typically expect from a horror flick – and one that will leave you with a lot more than just a few good scares upon exiting the theater.

Taking care of life’s business can be challenging enough, even under the best of circumstances. But, when acutely altered conditions like those depicted here figure into the mix, this task can become exceedingly difficult. At times like that, we must believe that the unfinished business we seek to complete can be accomplished in good order, with the means needed to do so materializing as and when required. Some would heartily contend that we should apply such zest for living even at times when circumstances are far less demanding and daunting than these, and their argument is indeed compelling. Perhaps if we took life less for granted we might come to realize that and not wait until death approaches before we apply that thinking. Imagine what we might accomplish then – and what a wonderful world we’d all live in.

Copyright © 2024, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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