Save Yourselves review

We’re all addicted to our phones. Whether it’s because we need the dopamine hit of receiving Twitter faves or Instagram likes, or just a gnawing need to constantly be connected, the addiction is very real. Save Yourselves!, the new sci-fi comedy from writer/directors Eleanor Wilson and Alex H. Fischer, preys on the FOMO you get if you don’t look at your phone for several hours, blowing it up into a worst case scenario. What if, instead of just a couple of missed notifications, you missed news about an alien invasion?

Su (Sunita Mani from GLOW) and Jack (John Reynolds from Search Party) initially appear to be little more than a walking collection of New York hipster cliches. They love Whole Foods, try to be environmentally conscious, and fantasize about leaving the modern world behind. It’s clear that they’re genuinely into each other, but there are some issues bubbling just beneath the surface: 30-year-old Su has ambition, while Jack is a lazy, 34-year-old man child. They go to a party with other hipsters, including a groom-to-be (John Early) who brags about planning a low-carbon honeymoon but in the same breath talks about how, instead of appropriating Mexican culture by using a mariachi band, they’re flying in a genuine 12-piece New Orleans brass band. (He seems oblivious to the fact that flying in anyone at all will increase the event’s carbon footprint.) Another friend, Raph (Ben Sinclair), who quit his job to travel the world, has just returned from Patagonia, where he procured a crystal for Jack intended to ward off stress and bad vibes. He owns a cabin upstate, and tells Su and Jack they should stay there for a while as a getaway.

A few days later, they’re on their way, having changed their voicemails to inform everyone they’re going completely off the grid for a full week. But hilariously, the second they turn off their phones, the camera pans up to reveal aliens penetrating the atmosphere. Set in “the year humankind lost planet Earth,” Save Yourselves! spends some time playing with the tension of the protagonists being clueless and the audience knowing they’re in serious trouble. Bad things begin happening just outside their line of sight, but it’s not until Su breaks their pact and looks at her phone that they realize what’s going on: a race of aliens – all of which look like round, fluffy, decorative pillows, but with long tongues that shoot out of them – is causing chaos across the world and drinking anything involving ethanol, including alcohol and gasoline, making the options to either hunker down or escape exponentially more difficult.

As this crisis arises, the movie chips away at their hipster exteriors and begins exploring its characters in a more profound way, unearthing the fact that they’re both deeply insecure people who have no life skills. Su is ambitious, yes, but doesn’t seem to know how to channel that ambition productively. Jack gives a big speech about how he doesn’t know how to be a man, confessing that he grew up avoiding classically manly activities in favor of being a more modern man, but admits that he’s bad at “all the new stuff” too. He doesn’t know how to fix things or work with his hands or build a fire (“Must be some bad wood,” he says after trying and failing to start a fire one night), and while the movie is ostensibly about an alien invasion, its central conflict is more about these characters coming to grips with just how unequipped they are to function in the world. They’re both forced to grow up quickly as they stare down their uncertain future, and a late-movie discovery gives them an extra dose of responsibility.

Save Yourselves! is also the funniest movie I’ve seen at Sundance this year. It loves its protagonists while gently poking fun at their shortcomings, as in a scene in which they learn there’s a gun in the cabin’s basement and spend several minutes talking about how they’re far more likely to injure themselves than an alien if they retrieve it. Mani, the movie’s most gifted performer, is especially adept at striking a balance between intimate dramatic moments and full-blown comedy, and I can’t wait to see how her career continues to unfold. Reynolds always feels a little like he’s struggling to keep up with her energy, but their dynamic is still compelling enough to keep the movie afloat during its most barren stretches.

At times, the production’s low budget makes it feel more like a web series than a feature film, but there’s enough creativity in the script to make the story feel larger than what’s on screen. Through frantic voicemails and messages, we learn that Yankee Stadium has been destroyed and New York City has been evacuated. We don’t actually see any of that – the movie doesn’t have the resources to show us – but the devastation we picture in our minds is just as effective because of how that information is delivered to the protagonists.

A funny but sobering look at millennial life in 2020, Save Yourselves! can be read as a plea for us to put down our phones once in a while and live a little. That reading is complicated a bit during the movie’s final five minutes, which I won’t spoil here, and even though the ending is the weakest part of the story, everything that comes before it is strong enough to make this an easy recommendation.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10

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