Friday, September 22, 2023


 by Rob DiCristino

But this movie might.

Brian Duffield’s No One Will Save You opens with a sequence of sublime, brutal humanity: Fresh from the shower, Brynne (Booksmart’s Kaitlyn Dever) practices a smile in the mirror. The first take is labored, artificial; it’s all teeth and dead eyes. The second is better — she adds a casual wave that makes the whole thing a little more convincing — but something still isn’t quite right. Undeterred, she moves on, choosing the more radiant of two candy-colored dresses and skipping downstairs to her model town square, a miniature wonderland bathed in hazy house lights. But like the smile, it’s a facsimile. An approximation. A hollow reproduction. Despite all the forced verve, we feel this woman’s loneliness and pain. We see how hard she’s trying not to unravel, how much of a struggle it is just to exist. We see the way she’s compensating for her sadness with cheerful accoutrement and a whistle past every (literal) graveyard. This is all rehearsed. An act. Brynne is broken, and she won’t be able to hide it for much longer.
It’s a stunning introduction to No One Will Save You, writer/director Duffield’s follow-up to 2020’s spectacular teen horror/comedy Spontaneous. Whereas that film used an epidemic of exploding students as an allegory for the trauma of school shootings — If that hasn’t sold you on it, I’m not sure what will — No One Will Save You is an alien invasion thriller fitted neatly atop a story seeped in deep self-loathing, a lithe one-hander in which Dever’s industrious heroine fends off extraterrestrial attackers laying waste to a small town that — for reasons revealed with painful urgency over a brisk ninety-three minutes — treats her as a pariah. Though heavy on subtext, the film is nearly free of dialogue, instead mining tension and drama from its star’s formidable physical dexterity and Duffield’s deft and balletic direction. Best of all, No One Will Save You is a masterful technical exercise, a mix of practical and computer-generated effects that bring Atomic Age visitors from above into the 21st century.

A pathos-driven creature feature may sound like business as usual from Duffield, who also penned 2020’s sorely underappreciated kaiju thriller Underwater, but audiences worried about excessive navel-gazing should know that No One Will Save You’s middle hour is an unrelenting gauntlet of survival horror in which Brynne barely speaks a word. There’s no time for long-winded exposition, nor would there be anyone to whom it could be delivered if there were. Brynne is an outcast, remember, shunned into seclusion by a community that hasn’t yet forgiven her past indiscretions. But rather than using wide angles and schizophrenic editing to create that feeling of seclusion and claustrophobia (see last week’s A Haunting in Venice), cinematographer Aaron Morton (Evil Dead 2013) lets his camera breathe, allowing his characters’ movements to dictate the angle and cadence of each frame. It’s the kind of visual storytelling that made Joe Dante and Stephen Spielberg into genre icons, the piece missing from so many overeager imitators.
Of course, none of this audacious technical effort amounts to anything at all without Kaitlyn Dever, whose fearless performance would have earned this Hulu Original a shot at the big screen in any just and respectable world. But while her Brynne certainly demonstrates all the rough-and-tumble physical endurance we’ve come to expect from a Final Girl — more like Only Girl, really — her greatest strength lies in her delicate integrity, an innocence of spirit that gives her the upper hand against her inscrutable attackers. Early scenes find her sitting dutifully by her mother’s grave and penning letters to friends who will never read them. She greets her neighbors’ icy stares with a smile and journals about culinary ventures in which no one will share. It’s late in the game when we realize that Brynne has been weaponizing her grief her entire adult life, and that the same dogged self-reliance that helped her endure the rejection of her peers is exactly what allows her to hold her ground when everyone else has been overtaken.
With any luck, No One Will Save You’s final act will provoke a lively discussion about the magnetic nature of that grief, about the ways it resonates through channels heretofore unexplored by mortal man. The film’s idiosyncratic play on extra-terrestrial creature design — an unlikely but captivating blend of Signs, Nope, and Cloverfield — should give genre-savvy audiences the old school willies they’ve been largely deprived of in this bombastic blockbuster age. But even if it disappears into the streaming ether with little pomp or circumstance, No One Will Save You will remain a tremendous exercise that solidifies Brian Duffield — whose further screenwriting credits include the McG thriller The Babysitter and the charming Love and Monsters — as one of the preeminent voices in genre storytelling. With a bit more luck, we’ll get one or two additional mid-budget efforts out of him before Disney wastes his considerable gifts on whatever flavorless Content slides down the pipeline next. Hey. We can hope, right?

No One Will Save You is now streaming on Hulu because no one in Hollywood knows what they’re doing.

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