In 'A Quiet Place: Day One,' Lupita Nyong'o makes a pulse-pounding action film kind of poetic

Brilliant actor summons her skills as a terminally ill woman determined to evade the sound-seeking aliens and go out on her own terms.

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Sam (Lupita Nyong'o) flees alien invaders in the ruins of Manhattan "A Quiet Place: Day One."

Sam (Lupita Nyong’o) flees alien invaders in the ruins of Manhattan in “A Quiet Place: Day One.”

Paramount Pictures

In the 10-minute prologue for “A Quiet Place Part II,” we learned the Abbott family from the original movie were at a Little League game in their idyllic hometown of Millbrook, New York, on the first day of the alien invasion, when all bloody hell broke loose, and those monstrous extraterrestrials began slaughtering much of the world’s population.

At the same time that madness was transpiring upstate, the city of New York (as well as a host of major metropolitan areas across the planet) found itself under siege, and that’s the setting for “A Quiet Place: Day One,” which serves as a worthy prequel to the first films but also functions quite well as a standalone story. Even if you’re never seen the first two “A Quiet Place” films (though we highly recommend that you do), “Day One” writer-director Michael Samoski, working from a story he conceived with John Krasinski, delivers a compelling and at times surprisingly poetic and melancholy survival story, with the brilliant Lupita Nyong’o carrying the film every quiet step of the way.

This is Samoski’s second feature after he made a spectacular debut with the Nicolas Cage-starring “Pig” in 2021, and it’s once again clear he is spectacularly talented visual artist and storyteller who isn’t afraid to take big swings. Granted, there are some metaphoric flourishes and overly sentimental moments that almost dare you to roll your eyes, but by the time “Day One” reaches its beautifully rendered and deeply moving conclusion, we’re all in.

'A Quiet Place: Day One'

Paramount Pictures presents a film written and directed by Michael Sarnoski. Running time: 100 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for terror and violent content/bloody images). Now showing at local theaters.

Nyong’o plays Sam, a writer and terminally ill cancer patient who is staying in a shabby hospice outside New York City, clinging to her service cat, Frodo, relying on transdermal Fentanyl skin patches to stave off the excruciating pain and barely tolerating the upbeat and warmhearted Reuben (Alex Wolff), the nurse who runs the center. When Reuben arranges a field trip into Manhattan to see a show (which turns out to be a strange and unsettling marionette performance), Sam agrees only after Reuben promises her they will get pizza, real New York pizza before heading back.

Spoiler alert: There’s no heading back. With the cinematography, score and sound design greatly helping to set the stage, Samoski finds just the right moment to slam on the accelerator and plunge Manhattan into chaos, as the skies light up with meteorlike streaks, and hundreds and then thousands of Death Angels tear through the streets of the city, hurling cars like toys and tearing people to pieces. (“Day One” is rated PG-13, and while there are a number of jump-scare moments of sudden carnage, we see more of the aftermath of the destruction than the actual killings.)

Covered in soot and bearing a startling resemblance to the late Marcy Borders, aka “Dust Lady” from the famous 9/11 photos, Sam hunkers down in that theater with hundreds of other survivors, including Djimon Hounsou’s character from “A Quiet Place Part II.” Thanks to announcements from military personnel flying overhead (presumably too high for the creatures to reach up and swat ‘em), everyone quickly learns the rules of engagement with these hideous monsters, who look like a cross between Jeff Goldblum’s “Brundlefly” and the creatures from the “Aliens” movies, and sound like 20 horses pounding down the stretch at the Kentucky Derby when they come roaring after you. They can’t see a thing, but they’re highly sensitive to even the slightest noise, so you must STAY VERY QUIET. The only way to escape them is to seek water; they can’t swim.

With thousands of New Yorkers walking like silent zombies to the South Street Seaport to take ferries to safety, Sam heads in the opposite direction, to Harlem, to get that pizza. (As you’ve probably guessed, Sam’s desire for that pizza is about much more than having a slice.) In a bit of plot development that feels a bit arbitrary and forced, Sam finds herself stuck with a man named Eric (Joseph Quinn), who explains he’s a law student from England and that’s about as much as we ever learn about Eric, other than he’s kind of a panicky dude and he keeps following Sam until she finally agrees to let him accompany her to Harlem. Eventually, Eric turns out to be a pretty OK guy; I mean, when Frodo the cat takes a liking to him, how can we not follow suit?

“A Quiet Place: Day One” has a handful of pulse-pounding action sequences, but it also works as a work of poetry about a young woman who is dying but is fiercely determined to fend off these Death Angels so that she can say goodbye to this world on her own terms. Lupita Nyong’o is in a horror movie, but she gives a performance that transcends genre. Greatness is greatness.

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