The fact that millennials are less certain to be able to afford homes or learn how to drive stick compared to our parents has been emphasized to the point of Twitter memeification, but it also provides reliable foundation for the gentle satire of “Save Yourselves!,” a movie of soft consequence and delightful shenanigans that posits how a young couple that can barely keep their phones out of their hands will manage to survive an alien invasion.
I fought against the urge to consider that plot detail a spoiler. “Save Yourselves!” shows its extraterrestrial cards to the audience early, but the cosmic machinations of its plot are never meant to overshadow the human ones at the story’s center (whether it accomplishes that is a different story). While stranger things are afoot on planet Earth, the most urgent existential threat faced by our protagonists – who are of a more central emphasis than the prey in your more standard “We’re under attack!” flick – is the terror of dispassionately drifting through early adulthood, and of realizing you’re almost 35 with little to show for it. By the time the title card drops, we understand it’s a warning that could refer either to the apocalypse or to the menace of middle-early-age malaise. “Save Yourselves!,” one of the most self-aware ditties about global catastrophe since “This Is the End,” is at its best when it keeps the duality of its straight-faced approach humming with enough heart that we can forgive ourselves for ignoring how predictable the story starts to shake out as things go from weird to apocalyptic.
The couple we follow is Jack (John Reynolds, looking like a young Jim Hopper) and Su (Sunita Mani), a young multiracial pair whose relationship has become so molded by technology that their afternoons consist of scrolling and swiping through screens like they’ve have already been possessed, a la “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” In our introduction, the lovers squabble after Jack borrows Su’s laptop and casually closes all her important tabs, sparking her dismay. Any viewer under 40 will totally get it--preserving a partner’s tabs is a commandment of dating in the digital age.
And if that’s the case, then we can read Su instinctively swatting Jack’s phone out of his hand one morning as the inevitable self-wake-up-call from techno-tinged millennial apathy. His reaction is initially one of shock, then mutual understanding. Shortly after, they’re on their way from the city to a lakeside cabin for a week of isolated disconnection from the internet and reconnection with each other.
But their digital detox couldn’t be coming at a worse time; the ceremonial powering-down of their phones before heading off into the woods means they’re completely oblivious to whatever happens to be going on in the sky above them, where what seems like a midday meteor shower might be the early stages of visitors on the approach to terra firms. Whatever is about to happen is sure be trending on the Twitter timelines that Jack and Su won’t be checking.
If the premise of “Save Yourselves!” sounds a bit cheeky, that’s entirely the point; co-directors Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson approach their own screenplay with intentions that are more sweet than sardonic. At 90 minutes, it’s a breezy watch that delights in perfect coincidences and flights of practical fancy, and it mostly manages to be entertaining in the smallness of its scale, at least in the first two acts. Think “Attack the Block” with light shades of Noah Baumbach. It’s cute and telling when Jack and Su arrive at the cabin, blissfully unaware of what might be happening back home but also of the liberation they’re just now discovering (“This is the best thing we’ve ever done,” Jack says with sweet naivete, when all they’ve done is get out of the car).
And what can we do but chuckle when they justify gunfire heard in the distance as “It must be hunting season”? There’s room to wonder how much longer the movie can turn to its one-note trick without betraying its characters, but it’s easy enough early on to buy into the irony that Jack and Su’s social distancing is saving their lives—even if there’s something off-putting about the ball of fur that keeps popping up in the cabin where they swear they didn’t notice it before.
Key to the movie’s lo-fi glee is Fischer and Wilson’s decision to keep us in the dark about what kind of encounters are happening out there where the maybe-starships we noticed earlier were destined to land. We know more than Jack and Su do, sure, but the directors’ restraint keeps us guessing as well about the odd things increasingly unfolding at the cabin (almost none of it, by the way, can really be called horror more than “Gremlins” can be called horror; that R-rating is merely for some F-bombs). And when the movie does begin to raise the curtain a bit, the alien intruders themselves are (initially, at least) so hilariously unassuming that they bring Gizmo to mind. Xenomorphs, these certainly are not.
But the biggest strength to “Save Yourselves!” is how it understates zaniness in favor of real sincerity. An authenticity takes root early via Reynolds and Mani, who play things so endearingly as Jack and Su that it isn’t until late in the film that we’re tempted to worry more about the physical endangerment of their lives so much as their lives together. They’ve got the comedic chops as well as the charm (plus, you can’t go wrong with lines of dialogue like “Poof on the roof!”).
There’s a thoughtfulness to their characterizations as well; Jack and Su give off an urban hipster vibe and would absolutely line up to vote for Joe Biden this year, and so it makes too much satirical sense that they would argue about the merits of grabbing a gun to defend themselves against whatever is scurrying around outside. Millennials may mostly be long past coming of age, but the movie is keenly knowledgeable about the trials yet to be endured. It may even go further, and suggest that eventual reckonings of sociopolitical consequence may also illuminate how genre cinema has tended to employ its tropes.
But that’s neither here nor there. “Save Yourselves!” is, first and foremost, a charming romp and a spunky parable, and it’s mostly successful. The conclusion indicates a profundity that the movie doesn’t ultimately know what to do with, but that certainly doesn’t negate the MVP-caliber work from Reynolds and Mani, its whimsy, and its heart. Call it close encounters of the 2020 kind. Doom may be knocking, but at least – hopefully – we have our loved ones to ride it out with.
"Save Yourselves!" is rated R for language. It's opening in select theaters Friday, and will be available on VOD on Oct. 6.
Starring: Sunita Mani, John Reynolds, Ben Sinclair, John Early
Directed by Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson
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