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"A Quiet Place: Day One" works roughly as well as the first two films in this alien-invasion franchise. If it has the edge over the 2018 and 2020 movies, the reason is simple though her talent certainly isn't: Lupita Nyong'o.

In Jordan Peele's "Us," a supernatural thriller, Nyong'o gave the greatest recent performance not nominated for an Academy Award. In "Quiet Place 3″ she's excellent as well, as terminal cancer patient Samira, who has the bad luck to visit Manhattan with her cat, Frodo, on the very day the out-of-towners arrive, blind, mean, fast and blessed with excellent auditory genetics.

Each minute she's on screen, which is most of the hour and a half, Nyong'o is alert and invested in every fiber of her character's constant predicaments. The cat, too, I guess. Frodo's the name, played by two lookalike felines named Nico and Schnitzel. Does Frodo survive? Sorry, that's a spoiler. (Yes.) Does the cat have a leading role? It does.

Does the movie operate on the same blend of solemn regard for rugged individualists and shameless regard for jump scares? Of course. Does Frodo know how and when to remain completely meow-free (which is all the time) in order to prevent the spindly, speedy Death Angels from taking another life? A final yes. The cat keeps mum always, unlike my favorite bit player in "Quiet Place 3″ who, early on, literally screams "We're all gonna die!" and then does.

In the earlier "Quiet Places," we followed the frontier family, the Abbotts, in upstate New York as they outwitted the visitors. This prequel, written and directed by Michael Sarnoski ("Pig"), re-centers things on Nyong'o's character, who joins her fellow hospice patients on a field trip to a marionette theater in NYC's Chinatown. She's only interested in a side trip to Harlem, for one last slice of her favorite pizza before she dies.

"Day One" takes some time out for gentle if contrived comic relief, and some emotional catharsis to counterbalance all the kills.

Otherwise, the movie follows a clear directive reasonably well. It is nothing but peril and exhaustion and superhuman resourcefulness in the face of two species not destined to get along. The Death Angels can't swim, at least not without dying in seconds, and the plot requires Samira to deliver another survivor and Frodo to safety aboard a ferry. Djimon Hounsou, a carryover from the second "Quiet Place" film, appears here in a supporting role. But at heart this is a two-person, one-cat affair.

I do wonder about the general messaging of this franchise. Is "A Quiet Place: Day One" selling the idea that catastrophe too big for politics, or America's actual crises, is the only way we can begin to get along? After the carnage? The films' creators have deflected the notion that the earlier "Quiet Place" films have had even a toe in real life. But undeniably, the new film takes a big, blunt and queasy-making cue from Sept. 11. Samira's experience of the initial intergalactic terror attack leaves her dazed, and caked in white ash and concrete dust. This imagery plainly echoes the unnerving and indelible photograph of World Trade Center worker Marcy Borders.

Inspired, or shameless? Your call. My call is shameless, but Nyong'o cuts through that, the whole way. She plays the material for the highest possible stakes, mostly nonverbally — though the one moment Samira lets loose with a soul-clearing scream, a good-enough-for-this-summer prequel suddenly feels like it really, truly matters.

'A Quiet Place: Day One'

2.5 stars out of 4

Rated: PG-13 or terror and violent content/bloody images.

Where: In theaters.