by Ken Bakely
Aliens have landed in Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson’s entertaining and pithy Save Yourselves! They drop onto the planet out of the blue, smearing the edges of a clear sky with translucent stripes, and soon distort more than the view. Their appearance is surprising: they are quite small, and seem to uncannily resemble pouffe-style ottomans. But they are aggressive and deadly all the same, and their arrival causes an instantaneous societal collapse as the world is thrown into apocalyptic chaos. Yet the film keeps its focus on two of the last people to find out: Su (Sunita Mani) and Jack (John Paul Reynolds) are a thirtysomething couple who, in an effort to grow closer, have decided to leave the city and spend the week at a cabin in the woods, completely off the grid. Amidst their awkward attempts at bonding, reinventing themselves, and trying to work on their own hangups and issues, the aliens come ever closer, though they remain blissfully unaware for some time. When they realize the magnitude of what’s happening, they are thrown into an unfathomable situation, and their oft-uneasy relationship and seeming lack of skills required to endure any unexpected hardship clash against the existential disaster that they now must endure.
The film takes a precise tone towards crafting this story, but remains squarely centered on the main characters’ interplay. Su and Jack go on the trip with decidedly unrealistically lofty expectations about what the week could accomplish, and it’s through that mindset that everything that follows – including how they react to an alien invasion – is filtered. There’s a lot going on here: this is as much a low-key comedy about their relationship as much as it is a high-key sci-fi comedy. And there’s definitely a heavily ironic, satirical core that carries through the whole thing. It’s a story about two people so ceaselessly plugged in that when they decide to step away, they still remain dependent on the solutions of others (a relationship checklist they follow for their vacation has been copied over from a website to a notebook, thus making it apparently authentic), and their effort to disconnect for a while leads to them literally missing the biggest news in history. But the movie is never sardonic or overdone for its own sake. Save Yourselves! establishes a precarious balance in this regard, but Fischer and Wilson are up to the task, crafting a story which always keeps its focus clear. The film tracks the dynamics between Su and Jack through even the most outlandish and extreme turns, ensuring we never lose sight of the characters as people. And as the leads, Mani and Reynolds share good chemistry, all while individually developing their roles. Su and Jack’s relationship feels all too lived in at times, even – or especially – as things escalate.
By turns, Save Yourselves! is funny, observant, and concise. It carefully peels back the empty cultural assumptions about improvement and quick fixes that fuel Su and Jack’s ill-advised rural getaway, before blasting into the meat of its plot, while still finding ways to funnel its commentary and character work. The film doesn’t always connect as neatly as it does in its best moments – considering all it builds up to, the ending is somewhat abrupt and unsatisfying – but it goes a long way to forging a unique and effusive angle on its subject matter, and does so with great spirit and humor. It’s a layered movie, with the obvious stakes of its logline still fundamentally augmented by the details which bring it all to life with such vivid aplomb. Even the smallest touches, like the miniature nature of the aliens themselves contrasted against their capability for acts of brutal violence, adds to the cheerfully lopsided and chaotic energy. As writers and directors, Fischer and Wilson give themselves a lot to do, and they mostly achieve it, even during the busiest stretches of the script, when everything could have gotten lost in the melee of the plot. The movie’s extraordinary heights are complemented by its character-driven, carefully sketched minutia, and it’s a combination that works.