‘A Quiet Place: Day One’ tiptoes a little further into an alien-invasion ‘universe’

Like “The Walking Dead,” “A Quiet Place” pries opens the door to a world with a host of possibilities, some of them – including the premise of a new prequel subtitled “Day One” – already touched upon in the two previous movies. Set in New York, the latest film begins from a slightly unexpected premise, but then efficiently spins it to yield additional horror while giving theater-goers every reason to keep their mouths shut.

The 2021 sequel actually opened with a muscular flashback sequence to that moment when the grotesque, sound-sensitive alien invaders descended upon Earth, so the new film’s tag line, “Experience the day the world went quiet,” reflects a bit of a conceptual echo.

Introducing new characters, the main wrinkle in the new prequel – and it’s a questionable one at first – involves telling the story from the perspective of Sam (Lupita Nyong’o), a dying woman enduring hospice care with her cat, who serves as the de facto guide to all hell breaking loose.

At a time when people are dying right and left, “Day One” thus uses a woman already close to death as the audience’s surrogate. She interacts with various people along the way, but it’s a fair stretch until she encounters the most significant one, Eric (Joseph Quinn, on a genre tear with “Stranger Things” behind him and “Fantastic Four” to come), who doesn’t want to leave her side however much she tries – quietly – to chase him away.

While the Emily Blunt- and John Krasinski-anchored family’s sign-language fluency gave the original movie its gateway into an original-feeling twist on minimalist horror, this third film relies heavily on Nyong’o’s facial reactions, and it’s hard to think of an actor who can say more with an expression.

Written and directed by Michael Sarnoski (“Pig”), who shares story credit with original director/producer Krasinski (whose summer dance card also includes “IF”), the film does let viewers see more of the horrifying creatures, although their lightning-quick attacks often keeps those images brief. There’s also the matter of how the invaders manage to seemingly be everywhere at once, to the point where the slightest sound on screen provokes a sense of dread.

“A Quiet Place: Day One” takes advantage of those attributes, and even finds a way to use Sam’s condition, somewhat awkwardly, to consider our humanity. If there’s one clunky flourish, it’s been clear going back to “Alien” that cats and sci-fi horror don’t mix, and while her feline companion provides a periodic source of unpredictable tension, it’s one of those devices that probably should have been left in the litter box.

Unfortunately, everything that enjoys a modicum of success these days triggers talk of its own “universe,” and “A Quiet Place” is no exception. Practically speaking, “Day One” takes a step toward demonstrating that this perilous post-invasion world offers no shortage of streets and hallways to tiptoe down, where nobody needs to ask “Cat got your tongue?” when they are greeted with silence.

“A Quiet Place: Day One” premieres June 28 in US theaters. It’s rated PG-13.

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