Sundance 2020 Review: SAVE YOURSELVES! Delivers a Fresh Spin on the Sci-Fi Rom-Com
Sunita Mani and John Reynolds star in a delightful alien-invasion movie from filmmakers Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson.
If you like a little rom-com in your lo-fi sci-fi or a little lo-fi sci-fi in your rom-com (take your pick), you'll most definitely dig filmmakers Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson's Save Yourselves!
With a nearly irresistible premise - an alien invasion set against our potentially destructive obsession with immersive tech - and casually winning performances from Sunita Mani and John Reynolds as an urban, thirty-something couple on the brink of actual performances - Save Yourselves! scratches an extremely particular itch few moviegoers even knew they had, but once that scratch has been discovered, they'll happily do whatever's necessary to obtain a small measure of satisfaction. Fischer and Wilson deliver a delightfully modern-day comedy of (Internet-related) manners with authentic, honest insights into 21st-century romance as the next combo lo-fi sci-fi rom-com.
When we first meet Su (Mani) and Jack (Reynolds), a thirty-something couple living the equivalent of the rapidly failing American Dream in the great borough of Brooklyn, they're about to make a momentous, life-changing, life-upending decision: They mutually decide to cut themselves from the Internet for an entire week.
While Jack suffers few, if any, initial consequences for their decision, Su promptly receives a "You're fired." text from her boss. But with an empty cabin in upstate New York - courtesy of a mutual friend and former investment banker turned eco-entrepreneur - Su and Jack head to the cabin, free of the usual technological encumbrances, including, but limited to, their laptops, desktops, and tablets (they bring their phones, of course). Su sees their time off the grid as an opportunity to redefine their personal and professional lives, bringing a notebook filled with self-help advice cribbed from the Internet.
Following the template set up so spectacularly well by Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead more than 15 years ago, Fischer and Wilson keep the slightly self-involved Su and Jack unaware of a world-shattering alien invasion for the better part of an hour. While they continue to work solipsistically on themselves and their petty concerns, the world literally falls to pieces only miles away.
They're too blissfully oblivious to notice a desperate man running from an unseen alien force just feet away or the corpse in the equivalent of their backyard. Until they do, of course. Fischer and Wilson leave themselves with little choice but to eventually lift the veil of ignorance from Su and Jack's eyes and when they do, Su and Jack's respective backgrounds as city dwellers with little to no knowledge about rural living turns into a major obstacle (one of many).
Fischer and Wilson trod certainly familiar sci-fi-horror paths, but always with a sense of humor and always with a character first, story second attitude. While Su and Jack work out what they want to do with the rest of their lives, alone and apart, the alien invasion pushes such concerns into temporary suspension or abeyance.
It's only when the aliens - depicted here as mega-sized Tribbles with killer appendages and an appetite for ethanol - make their presence fully known (Jack calls them "poofs" after Ottoman footrests) that Save Yourselves! turns fully into its lo-fi sci-fi roots, forcing Su and Jack to turn into A Quiet Place-inspired survivalists (minus the full-on graphic horror). Fischer and Wilson, however, stumble when they try to find an appropriately cathartic ending for Save Yourselves!
Too dark and you risk losing your audience. Too light and you still risk losing your audience. Fischer chose one to the detriment of the other without doing the hard work necessary to convince audiences that their ending was the only organic ending available.
Still, Mani and Reynolds (also featured in another Sundance entry, Horse Girl) make for a charmingly believable pair of thirty-somethings facing major life decisions. Fischer and Wilson are at their best in their use of dialogue to reveal individual character quirks and interactions typical of couples several years into their romantic relationships.
And by making the aliens the opposite of menacing (they look like huggable, plush toys), Fischer and Wilson make their intentions clear: They don't want to frighten or repulse audiences with buckets of blood, gore, or entrails; they want moviegoers to actually care about what happens to Su, Jack, and their relationship before the final credits roll on Save Yourselves!