Friday, July 19, 2024

Are prequels necessary? I can say I had a damn good time with “Furiosa,” the “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) prequel this year and this, showing how world annihilation by alien invasion came to be a thing in the “Quiet Place” series. What the two films have in common is a can-do – er, make that, kick-ass – lead in the form of Anya Taylor-Joy in George Miller’s post-apocalyptic road-rage flick and here, in an apocalyptic preamble, the infallible Lupita Nyong’o, so compelling – and Oscar winning –  in “12 Years a Slave” (2013) and in two roles in Jordan Peele’s sophomore feature “Us” (2019). Nyong’o is the main reason “Day One” flies as Sam, a young woman who ostensibly has terminal cancer. She’s part of a hospice excursion (the only one without white hair and white skin) bused into New York City for a marionette performance. Then things go crash-bang out on the avenue. Meteors, or the like, are raining down. Explosions and soot and ash are everywhere. 

The imagery is evocative of 9/11. A disoriented Sam walks through the debris and billows of smoke, clinging to her service cat, Frodo, while survivors around her shout out for loved ones. For their efforts they are eviscerated by the velociraptorlike xenomorphs we came to know in the John Krasinski-helmed films. The bloody assault comes on like a flash, akin to the zombies in “World War Z” (2013). People are picked off and picked apart left and right, though as we know from Krasinski’s future chapters, this species of eradicating aliens can’t see; they home in for the kill by sound.

Cut-off survivors hole up in crumbling penthouse-crowned skyscrapers as military Black Hawks fly overhead. Those trapped in Manhattan are told to shelter in place silently and that boats will come to evacuate them – the military has blown the bridges around the island, having learned that water is pretty perilous to the invaders. Sam, with her wide, luminous eyes doing the communicating and Frodo in her clutch, has other ideas and heads for a visit to the old studio apartment where she penned poetry and to get a slice at the best pizza shop in Harlem. She’s going in the opposite direction of everyone else, but a British law school student (Joseph Quinn) tags along with her despite her gestured objections. 

Competently directed by Michael Sarnoski, who punched his ticket with the Nicholas Cage curio “Pig” in 2021, “Day One” builds with purpose and fervor, but ultimately drifts into the predictable.  The use of thunder and rain and a deflating car tire offer up nice flourishes, but not quite to the degree that Krasinski scored on the two chapters starring his wife, Emily Blunt. Djimon Hounsou, who had a significant role as Henri in “Part II” plays the crossover character trapped in the city with Sam. He’s in the film just enough to make the link; this is the Sam show. No Nyong’o, no movie.