Though it starts with a seemingly simple sci-fi premise, Save Yourselves is actually so much more. This is a film that’s funny and surprising but also smart, layered, and subtly thought-provoking. It doesn’t clobber you over the head with any single message; instead, you’re presented with many different viewpoints, any of which can be processed however you choose. The story is cute and clever but having something to think about afterward makes it even better.
Written and directed by Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson, Save Yourselves stars Sunita Mani (GLOW) and John Reynolds (Stranger Things) as a Su and Jack. They’re a modern, moderately successful thirtysomething New York couple who are largely directionless and hopelessly addicted to technology (Honestly, who isn’t these days?). When the opportunity arises to get out of the city for a week and stay at a friend’s remote cabin, they jump at it, hoping to rediscover themselves, and each other, by turning off their phones, disconnecting, and just living. Which is the precise moment aliens start invading Earth.
As an alien invasion happens all around them—largely off-screen—Su and Jack are blissfully unaware. Clues begin to show up, though, and eventually, they’re forced to deal with the potential world-ending situation they would’ve easily known about much earlier if they’d just kept their phones on.
Of course, Save Yourselves wouldn’t be half as interesting if that had happened, and Su and Jack slowly discovering Earth is being invaded is half the fun. Which, in a way, kind of describes the film itself—it’s half fun. Once the plot turns full-on alien invasion, everything gets super weird and much funnier than it had been before. Thankfully, the before isn’t boring, it’s just much more focused on character development. We learn about Su’s relationship with her family, about Jack’s masculine insecurities, their communication problems. All of that adds to our understanding of (and caring about) what comes next.
Much of this is because Mani and Reynolds’ performances are so beautifully grounded. From the very first scene—in total silence playing on their phones—the audience has an instant connection to them. We recognize this aloofness. We feel their focus. Both actors bring a wholly relatable innocence to their roles that makes any other places they want to go—fear, anger, sensuality—feel totally natural. They’re the glue that keeps everything in the film together.
Eventually, that balance, slightly uneven as it may be, pays off. As Su and Jack begin to basically fight aliens (it’s not as exciting as that sounds but that’s what it is) the film’s introspective moments make its later action that much more impactful. There’s some real tension near the end of the movie. Some real violence and tough decisions, but because we’ve spent so much seemingly quiet time with these two, the emotions come across as intended.
All of this builds to a rather odd, ambiguous ending that, at first, I wasn’t a fan of. Then I realized, Save Yourselves itself is rather ambiguous. On one hand, it’s a parable about the dangers of technology. On the other hand, that technology would have saved the characters a lot of trouble. The potential end of the world is undoubtedly a bad thing—and yet the trials the couple face because of it allow them reach their full potential. Basically, Save Yourselves lets you choose: you can pick how you’d like to read and remember the movie and no matter what you pick, it makes sense. Sure, maybe the film would have been more satisfying if things wrapped up and answer themselves more definitively, but leaving the edges a little blurry allows the audience to make this the movie that we want, and it’s a nice feeling.
Save Yourselves is now in theaters and comes to on-demand October 6.
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