Film Review – No One Will Save You
No One Will Save You
No One Will Save You (2023) is one of the most effective sci-fi thrillers of recent memory. Written and directed by Brian Duffield, this is a lean, taut, and confident alien invasion movie. It gets down to business right away, only amplifying the tension the further along we go. It lacks any kind of narrative fat. Every scene leads to the next with increasing momentum. There is no wasted moment here, everything is constructed to keep us on the edge of our seats. But this isn’t just another example of extraterrestrials wrecking havoc on Earth. It is also a piercing character study – an examination of guilt, regret, and the need for human connection. Not only is this about a character fighting to survive outside forces, but to survive the turmoil haunting their very soul.
Kaitlyn Dever anchors the entire film with her committed, up-to-the-task performance. She is the centerpiece, headlining a one person show where she is left to her own devices. Duffield’s writing adds the extra challenge of keeping Dever’s character – Brynn – almost entirely without dialogue. We don’t get any instances of Brynn talking to herself or thinking out loud, and her interactions with others are at a minimum. The title really describes her situation: The one person she can rely on for help is herself. Outside of some well placed clues, the only way we understand what Brynn is thinking is through Dever’s facial expressions and body language. Granted, one doesn’t have to guess too hard what she’s thinking while being chased by alien lifeforms, but Dever gives the character surprising depth and emotion.
Duffield’s direction quickly establishes Brynn’s background. We see her ostracized from the rest of her small town, some even looking down at her in scorn. Brynn spends most of her time at home building elaborate miniature communities. There are hints of a past tragedy. Brynn lives in a house too big to call her own, and the clothes she wears and the music she dances to suggests a detachment from modern society. It’s as though she lives in a world removed from time. But almost as quickly as we meet her, Brynn gets tossed into a nightmare, as aliens descend upon her house with unknown intentions. From that point on, the story is as straightforward as can be – Brynn trying with all her might to fight off the aliens and somehow escape to safety.
In terms of design, the aliens are not too unlike what we have seen before. With their skinny bodies, bulbous heads, and large dark eyes, they don’t veer too far away from the familiar stylings. However, the twist is in how the special effects renders their movements. Some float and glide in the air, others walk like everyday people, and a few jerk and flail about with unnatural gestures. They communicate by moving their limbs and torsos in strange positions. They are a formidable movie villain because they are so unpredictable. Are they here to conquer us? Enslave us? Befriend us? The narrative doesn’t bother explaining any of it, which makes the aliens all the more creepy. The production does not obscure or hide what the aliens look like. They are eventually revealed in all their glory and we – the audience – are forced to look upon them up close and personal.
Aaron Morton’s cinematography makes great use of space and geography. Because there is little dialogue, our understanding of what Brynn is going through depends heavily on how the surroundings are captured. The camera does an excellent job of highlighting how trapped Brynn feels. During one scene, the camera lingers on her as she hides under her bed just as an alien comes into her room. Instead of following the alien as it searches about, the camera sticks on Brynn, watching as the fear on her face escalates. The production design and art direction supply character development without feeling overbearing. As we travel to each room in the house, more secrets are revealed about Brynn’s past, the trauma that she has experienced, and the guilt that weighs on her shoulders. It’s a remarkable feat to share so much about a person without uttering a single word. By the end, Brynn is shown as a fully dimensional character, warts and all, and yet it all comes about organically. We learn a lot about her without being spoon fed the information.
But when it comes to the thrills, the film does not let up. The first half makes great use of sound, as all sorts of bumps, creaks, and clicks warn Brynn that she is not alone. Once the aliens are introduced, things shifts into overdrive. This is a perfect example of a production relying on suspense instead of surprise. Instead of shocking us with jump scares, we are made to sit in the middle of building dread. Rather than wonder where the next attack will come from, we can see Brynn’s invaders coming right for her. Many of the set pieces are done in close quarters, where Brynn must face off against the aliens mere inches from her face. It’s a tragedy that this was released on Hulu to stream. This is tailor made to generate huge reactions out of a theater going audience.
What makes No One Will Save You special, and what I believe will inspire countless think pieces, is the ending. While I will not describe to you what happens, I will say that the closing passages left such a strong impression that I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I saw it. Duffield melds the terror of the aliens with Brynn’s character arc, creating a resolution that is beautiful and sad at the same time. Is the ending hopeful or pessimistic? There’s an ambiguity that causes us to evaluate where Brynn has come from, what she thinks about herself and her loved ones, and how that informs her ultimate fate. I know I am being intentionally obscure about this, but Duffield chose such an offbeat and bizarre finale that, looking back on it, turns out to be near perfect. Somehow, this was the only way things could close out, any other choice would have been a cop out.
No One Will Save You takes pieces from the likes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and Signs (2002) and breathes new life into the genre with a compelling, character driven story. I was enthralled by it from beginning to end. It’s rare for a film to take something we have seen countless times before and make us feel like we were experiencing it for the first time. That’s how you know you have just witnessed something great.
Final Grade: A-