‘A Quiet Place: Day One’: An Odo to Frodo, Horror’s Best Cat

A Quiet Place: Day One

If you have pets, or even if you’re just an animal lover in general, you’ve probably visited Does The Dog Die? The crowdsourced resource covers several common triggers, though the most notable—and the genesis for the site itself—is whether or not the dog in any given movie dies. The catalog is pretty expansive, too. I recently rewatched Marcus Dunstan’s The Collector, and sure enough, the low-budget Saw-riff has an entry. It’s been years, and the moment I saw a cute cat, I needed to know whether to avert my eyes (spoiler: I did).

The phenomenon, at least from a modern filmic lens, is a new one. It wasn’t until 1940 that most motion pictures had to consult with animal experts in film, and even after that, the treatment they received was less than great. It was years later still that society broadly agreed upon depicting animal death as the cardinal sin a movie could commit. When the first trailer for A Quiet Place: Day One premiered, I was terrified.

The first A Quiet Place opened with the death of a young child, so the probability of Day One’s cat, named Frodo (adorable) meeting an untimely end wasn’t exactly low. More importantly, I conceptualized the cat’s role as a cheap, likely exploitative one—Frodo would simply be there for the tension. His vulnerability during an alien invasion was the easiest way to capitalize on the franchise fatigue and swindle some unearned tension from a Certified Cat Lover like myself.

Also Read: The Female Hunters of ‘A Quiet Place’ [Fatal Femmes]

Contemporary behavioral scientists and media scholars have probed the burgeoning phenomenon when it comes to animal deaths, principally (though not exclusively) dog deaths. Consider it the I Am Legend effect. There are a lot of theories for why animal deaths resonate more in media than any other kind. Horror fans are especially relevant, given just how regularly the genre writ large is predicated on death in all its gruesome glory. Knock a few heads off or sever someone down the middle, no problem. I might even celebrate it at the end of the year. Kill an animal on-screen? Well, those are fighting words.

A key variable is an immediate connection. Human beings are inclined to connect with animals much quicker than they are other humans. Think of it this way using A Quiet Place: Day One as an example: Samira’s (Lupita Nyong’o) character arc extends throughout the entire movie. It’s a conventional three-act structure that climaxes when Sam visits the jazz club where her father used to work. Frodo, the cat, doesn’t adhere to any conventional narrative structure. From the moment he’s introduced, audiences are connected with him.

A great guy!

Also Read: Exploring The Haunted Marketing Of Neon’s ‘Longlegs’

There is, too, our capacity, almost penchant, for anthropomorphism. Cats and dogs are different than us, but often, we perceive them as having the same feelings and ways of thinking as we do. That assumption is often paradoxical, rendering animal deaths in movies more painful than they otherwise would be. That is, we perceive animals as interpreting the world as we do while also conceding that they don’t. In Day One, we assume Frodo both does and does not understand the burgeoning threat, and that dichotomy is deeply stressful. Taken to its natural, most extreme end (death), we’re rendered inconsolable. Were Frodo to die, we’d weep because he didn’t know better—he didn’t understand.

Animals are easy and quotidian. The entire John Wick franchise is predicated on our intrinsic connection to animals. Yet, much like several other unsavory cinematic trends and tropes, animal death can get icky quickly. In Alexandre Aja’s Crawl, Sugar is there to stress the audience out. Nothing more. He’s a great dog—a fantastic dog—but his narrative role is a genre one. Horror pets most commonly exist to satisfy those genre requirements. To instill tragedy. To demonstrate the breadth of a villain’s evil (think Michael Myers killing Lester). Rarely are they used more meaningfully. Frodo in Day One is all the more refreshing because he bucks convention, imbuing the movie’s already considerable pathos with an extra dollop of both poignancy and recognition for the ways animals deeply impact our lives.

Also Read: The Tragic, Shared Histories of ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ and ‘The Blair Witch Project’

It must be noted that Frodo, unlike, say, Jonesy from Alien, isn’t just a cat. He’s Samira’s emotional support animal. Those kinds of relationships are rarely explored on-screen. It’s no surprise, really, given A Quiet Place: Day One director Michael Sarnoski’s thematically similar directorial debut, Pig, though unexpected or not, Frodo elevates the proceedings considerably. Everyone is remarkable, no doubt, but Frodo specifically accounts for an emotional arc that’s as heartbreaking as it is cathartic.

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are widely misunderstood. Part of that, of course, is the co-opting of disability language among folks to which it does not apply. Broadly, there are four main categories when it comes to an animal’s (mostly dogs’) role: service animals, working animals, therapy animals, and ESAs. Service animals have special rights and protections under the ADA—the remaining categories do not. Yet, while ESAs might not enjoy ADA protections, they’re invaluable companions nonetheless, accounting for reduced feelings of loneliness, alleviated symptoms of depression and anxiety, and social support. ESAs, ideally, must be prescribed by a health professional. That isn’t always the case (visit any college campus and you’ll see just that), though it is the formal way of doing so.

Also Read: ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge’ Is The Series’ Best Sequel

Frodo is, of course, an ESA. Samira takes him anywhere, including into the city at Day One’s start. He’s with her, either in her arms or on a leash, throughout the entire movie. And their bond, often silent, belies behind-the-scenes fears of star  Lupita Nyong’o herself—prior to filming, she was terrified of cats. You’d never guess it with how fluidly Frodo becomes an extension of Sam throughout. Most movies would stretch credulity—horror movies often do with pets. Think of any horror movie, say, Snakes on a Plane, and how a character throwing themselves into danger for an animal is an object of ire, not celebration. Horror survival dictates abandoning the pet. If it’s them or you, the conventional choice is, well, you. Spoilers follow:

A Quiet Place: Day One easily circumvents that logic with Sam’s concession to death. While she isn’t actively looking to die—Day One is still a PG-13 franchise movie—she also isn’t actively looking to live. One of the movie’s most striking shots is Sam, Frodo clutched in her arms, working against a sea of people en route to an evacuation point. Sam’s response to the invasion is hinted at before, though strikingly confirmed in that single sequence. She’s going to get pizza with her cat, that’s all. Her survival is, broadly, ephemeral. Evacuation isn’t an option—she just wants to live long enough for a slice of authentic New York pizza.

Also Read: How ‘Courage The Cowardly Dog’ Taught Me To Love The Monster [I Saw The TV Show]

Sam’s arc, like the previous two entries, is refreshingly life-affirming, as strange as it sounds. The first entry invited ridicule for the Abbott parents’ decision to have a baby in the middle of the invasion, but that ridicule missed the entire point. Without that, there is no point in living. Yes, their new baby accounts for the movie’s breathlessly tense third act (babies cry, after all), but it’s not simply there for tension. The new Abbott baby is the movie’s emotional core—its narrative rationality.

Frodo is no different. An extended third-act scene sees Eric (Joseph Quinn) stumble into an asteroid field littered with alien eggs. He throws himself into a literal monster’s den. Why? Frodo ran off, and he’s trying to get him back. Michael Sarnoski, understanding the role of ESAs, has already established that Frodo functions as more than just a cat, so saving him isn’t a frustrating endeavor. Instead, it’s a necessary one.

In the final moments, the tears come not only from Sam’s unspoken decision to stay behind, creating enough of a distraction for Eric to escape (after all, the franchise has played that card before) but also from her quiet goodbye to Frodo. That moment, without question, rivals the death of Sam in I Am Legend. The beat is distinct in not only its silence, the way Nyong’o can convey an entire history with just her face, but also its implications. Frodo, the cat, isn’t going to die. Sam is. She’s saying goodbye to her cat because she has to leave.

Also Read: 16 Horror Movies Directed By Women Of Color You Can Stream Right Now

I was a blubbering mess, reminded of having to say goodbye to my own cat, interestingly named Sam. When I asked Santa Claus for a dog in first grade, he (my mom) wrote back that the North Pole was all out of dogs. What a shame. He did, however, have a cat available, and Santa Claus in his infinite power had already arranged with the local Humane Society for me to pick him up the following day.

Sam being a good guy circa 2016

I had Sam for 17 years, and I was away for graduate school when he had to be put down. I FaceTimed my mom and told her to bring the phone to Sam. Then, I just sat with him. I looked at him, he looked at me, and I didn’t say anything. There was nothing to say. I hadn’t seen him since I left— since he got sick. He was my best buddy.

Also Read: The 10 Best Alien Abduction Movies In Horror History

I missed 24 days of high school my senior year, the cap of what I could miss without jeopardizing graduation. My mental health wasn’t great. On those days I stayed home, I didn’t do much. Instead, I remained in bed. Sam, with me from the night before, stayed. He never moved, never meowed, never demanded food or play. He just curled up next to me, like he intrinsically knew what I needed.

The bond between a person and their pet is unlike any other. People have tried for years to conceptualize just what that’s like, just how strong it can be. That relationship often defies words, defies language, or easy explanations. It’s too profound to be spoken. And maybe that’s why A Quiet Place is the perfect place for it. That love—Sam’s love for Frodo—is clear, and she doesn’t even need to say it out loud.



Sign up for The Harbinger a Dread Central Newsletter