*****FLYING SAUCER-SIZED SPOILERS!*****
Writer-director Brian Duffield has crafted a few sci-fi/horror movies where a protagonist is left to their own resources to deal with with a cataclysm or conspiracy (“Love and Monsters” “The Babysitter”). That template is used once again with his latest movie, “No One Will Save You,” which stars Kaitlyn Dever (“Last Man Standing”) as an ostracized, isolated young woman living in a rural town that has fallen victim to an alien invasion.
I watched the movie after attending a recent local horror convention, because I was psyched for a good horror movie, and because I’d read some positive online feedback about the film (most notably from horror/fantasy maestro Guillermo del Toro), so my curiosity was piqued. As with most movies I watch these days, I warmed up my HD digital projector, turned out the lights, and did my best to immerse myself in the experience…
“No One Will Save You” (2023)
The movie opens with a sweeping, aerial view of a large isolated house somewhere in the rural Midwestern United States. We then meet Brynn (Kaitlyn Dever); a young seamstress working from home who’s coping with the recent loss of her mother (Lauren L. Murray), and still mourning the loss of her best friend, Maude (Evangeline Rose), who died under as-yet unexplained circumstances when the two girls were 12 years old.
For reasons that become clear later on, Brynn is the town pariah. The withdrawn young woman copes with her imposed isolation by living in a fantasy world of vintage music, adding pieces to her elaborate model town, and writing semi-apologetic letters to Maude as if she were still alive. Written and presented more like a young woman from the 1950s, the reclusive Maude feels like a character out of time.
Note: The elaborate town models are evocative of Roy Neary’s toy train sets from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (again) and the magical attic town miniatures that played a role in 1988’s “Beetlejuice.” This idyllic miniature also foreshadows the movie’s conclusion.
We see a typical day for Brynn as she nervously runs errands in town, where she’s wordlessly shunned, only to rush home to her private sanctuary. There, she whittles away her free time working on her miniature town, writing letters to Maude, and eagerly anticipating mail deliveries (no internet?). Despite her friendless seclusion, she is surrounded by many of her favorite things (vintage music, old movie posters, etc) in a never ending struggle to buoy her spirits
Note: I can almost believe in invading aliens before I believe that an American girl, born in the 21st century, would wait all day for snail mail, write handwritten letters, use a rotary phone, listen exclusively to old music, and tack Tyrone Power posters to her wall. It all feels painfully hipster-ish. I find it ridiculous that she wouldn’t access the internet in some capacity. She could at least have a cellphone, for goodness sake. All of Brynn’s ‘quirks’ would’ve worked more organically if Duffield had simply written the story as a 1950s period piece.
Later that night, Brynn is awakened to the sounds of an intruder in her home. She quickly realizes the intruder is an alien (the typically bug-eyed, gray “X-Files” variety). Attempting to call for help, she learns the aliens can wreak havoc electricity and phone lines, rendering her already antique rotary phone dead. The aliens can also forcibly toss her around by means of telekinesis, like a rag doll. As they ransack her home searching for her, Brynn is pinned behind her elaborate model town. As the alien approaches for her, Brynn unthinkingly drives a church steeple from the model right into the alien’s head—killing it instantly.
With no way to contact authorities about the dead ET in her house (hate when that happens), a battered Brynn puts on her best walking shoes the following morning and heads into town. Seeing a neighbor’s house similarly trashed, as well as an overturned mail truck, Brynn realizes what happened to her wasn’t confined to her property.
Note: Forget local police; contact the federal government, and the Air Force. I realize Brynn is young and socially withdrawn, but obviously what happened to her was much much bigger than a simple break-in. Something else of note; the movie makes great use of its New Orleans filming locations, which somehow reminded me of the upstate New York locations used in 2018’s “A Quiet Place.”
Brynn’s first stop is the police station, where a tense encounter with Chief Collins (Dane Rhodes) and his wife (Geraldine Singer) leads to her getting spat upon by Mrs. Collins—who’s still very bitter over the death of her daughter, Maude.
Realizing she won’t get any help from the police (hence, the title of the movie), Brynn decides to flee. To that end, she boards a bus out of town, but that ride is halted when several oddly-behaving passengers seem triggered by her presence, and try to stop her. Terrified by their fixed stare and unnatural bodily movements (making the same, bone-cracking noises and sounds as her nocturnal visitor), Brynn decides to ditch the bus and make a run for it, but she’s pursued by a lone passenger who seems determined to find her…
Note: Now adding “The Puppet Masters” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” to the list of other homages in this film, which include “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “The X-Files,” “Communion,” and others. The movie is well-crafted, yes, but borrows very heavily from other sources. In that way, it feels much like the Duffer Brothers’ “Stranger Things,” though lacking that series’ warmer characterizations
Making her way past a deserted church, she visits the grave of her late friend Maude, before she observes a clustered group of oddly-behaving people communing skyward, with some things moving visibly beneath the skin of their throats. The aliens have assumed control of their bodies (no surprise there, after the town’s ransacking and the incident on the bus). Brynn puts her track shoes to the test as she runs home ahead of the large storm clouds that seem to following her.
Note: The clouds ominously heralding the aliens’ arrival is a direct lift from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” just as her previous night’s encounter with the ransacking alien in her home seemed inspired by the Barry Guiler abduction sequence (save for the outcome) from that film.
Later that night, the blanket Brynn used to cover her destroyed front entranceway is telekinetically pulled from the doorframe, as a glowing beam from outside carries the dead alien’s decomposing body out from her house. In its place, two more aliens invite themselves in to hunt for the ‘murderer’ of their comrade. With one dead alien under her belt, Brynn decides to try her luck with the other two. She snaps a mop handle in half and impales an alien, before repeatedly bashing its head in with a wardrobe door.
Trying to leave her house once more, Brynn is confronted by the alien-controlled human who followed her from the bus, who tries to shove her into the glowing white tractor beam of an overhead flying saucer. During their struggle, she kicks him into the tractor beam, which pulls straight up into the overhead saucer.
Note: The tractor beams pulling people/aliens up into the saucers reminded me of the powerful shafts of light which performed a similar function in 1993’s alien abduction film, “Fire in the Sky.” It’s also evocative of TV’s “The X-Files,” as are the somewhat unimaginatively-designed aliens themselves.
As she’s about to leave her house, Brynn is confronted by a much larger, arachnid-bodied alien who chases her into her inert car, where she manages to trap the giant, gangly creature. Crawling under the car, Brynn manages to ignite a leaking fuel line punctured by one of the alien’s sharp-clawed feet. Her old Subaru explodes in a fireball, making a third alien kill for Brynn…for which she grins in a moment of primal, savage satisfaction. The large overhead saucer manages to extinguish the flames, but the crispy critter inside is toast.
Note: At this point in the story, I was already getting the feeling that Brynn’s unexpected penchant for killing might’ve had something to do with her being the town pariah.
Once more, Brynn tries to make a run for it, but is brutally stopped by another gray, who uses telekinesis to slam her against the ceiling of her home; under the glare of the red pinning light, the alien regurgitates a tentacled parasite from its mouth that it will transfer into Brynn. Once the parasite transfers into its new ‘host,’ Brynn loses consciousness. She then experiences a bright, sunlit hallucination where her friend Maude (Dari Lynn Griffin) is still alive, and an adult. Brynn’s own force of will kicks in, and she’s snapped out of the hallucination.
Note: The humanoid grays are not the actual ‘bad guys’ of the story—they are but one of the parasites’ many hosts used to traverse the galaxy. Now the parasites have used the grays to reach Earth, where they want humans as fresh host stock. This is very similar to Robert Heinlein’s “The Puppet Masters” (1951 book/1994 movie) or classic Star Trek’s “Operation: Annihilate” (1967), where spine-attaching aliens used humanoid hosts to act as transportation across the galaxy. I don’t think there’s a single piece of this movie that feels truly unique.
Finding herself back in her present nightmare, she reaches down to pull the parasite from out of her throat. This small victory of hers prompts a reciprocal action from the saucer, as they levitate the small parasite and (apparently) use traces of Brynn’s DNA left on the creature to create an instant-clone of Brynn, to act as an emergency host. After the Brynn-clone quickly reaches maturity, it begins to chase the real Brynn deep into the woods where it quickly catches up to her.
Note: Which begs the question; if the aliens can clone a host from a human’s DNA then why do they still need the original human? What advantage could taking over our backwards planet possibly have for the aliens? This is a movie that raises questions, and then maddeningly ignores them. Writer-director Brian Duffield seems to enjoy using the tropes of science fiction but without any deeper explorations of them.
The clone then stabs Brynn, but the real Brynn has a box-cutter, which she then plunges into her clone as they hold each other in a deadly embrace. As the clone slumps into lifelessness, the gravely wounded Brynn makes her way to a nearby road where the exhausted, bleeding young woman collapses. With no fight left in her, another large alien arranges for Brynn to be tractor-beamed inside of the giant black saucer overhead…
Once inside the large, dimly-lit vessel, Brynn is surrounded by grays who seem to be fascinated by her penchant for killing. Her mind is then probed, which forces her to relive that painful day when she was 12-years old; the day her best friend Maude was killed…by her. As the two girls played, they began to argue, and Brynn pelted Maude with a fist-sized rock to her head. As she’s forced to face this painful memory, the aliens decide to release her back to Earth—without a parasite.
Note: My only guess for their release of Brynn sans parasite is that they either can’t control someone as strong-willed as her (unlikely), or they simply admire her penchant for violence—a quality they seem to share themselves, by their ransacking of Brynn’s home and the trashing of the town. Either way, it’s left up in the air, as I suspect the writer might not have an answer himself, other than as a setup for the ridiculous ending that followed…
We then see Brynn all glammed up in a nice dress with full makeup. Her house is now miraculously restored. She’s then met by her neighbors—presumably controlled by the parasites—who welcome her now, in a way her formerly ‘human’ neighbors never would’ve. She then takes a handsome, parasite-controlled young man for a dance as the obsidian saucers loom overhead…
Note: After 90 minutes of seeing the ostracized Brynn getting the shit kicked out of her by aliens, the ending takes a bizarre turn into “Mars Attacks”-style comedy, with a block party looking like a chic California wine festival. In the end, Brynn lives an existence right out of her imagination; her town now a replica of her miniatures, with everyone under alien influence. None of her prior torment mattered. I found myself completely divested in the film at this point; if Brynn no longer cares about the torture and pain inflicted upon her by these very same aliens, why should I? At the end, it all felt so pointless.
Summing It Up
“No One Will Save You” has generous helpings of style (borrowing heavily from Steven Spielberg, Tobe Hooper and others), which helps sew together a patchwork story that falls apart under any scrutiny. Many scenes are direct visual/aural homages to such sci-fi sources as “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “The Puppet Masters,” “Fire in the Sky,” and particularly “The Twilight Zone” (see: “The Invaders” with Agnes Moorehead).
The aliens themselves are typical ‘grays’ who control other bodies by means of a parasite they transfer directly into the mouth of a victim (see: “ALIEN”). Their awkward, cracking body movements sound as though they’d break bones if they sneezed—a trait their parasites pass onto their human hosts. Everything about the invaders feels borrowed; even their language sounds like they learned to speak fluent Predatorese at Berlitz. These ‘Aliens R Us’ become enraged and later fascinated by Brynn’s unexpected capacity for murder. In the end, they inexplicably allow her to retain her bodily autonomy (?), and even dance with her during a sunset party in the movie’s ridiculous Tim Burton-ish ending that undermines the buildup like a bad punchline to a 90-minute joke.
While we see repeated examples of Brynn’s resourcefulness, it makes little sense for a girl born in the 21st century to live without any access to the modern world. Brynn uses a rotary phone (!?). For chrissakes, I’m an old man, and even I haven’t used a rotary phone since 1979. This is especially odd since Brynn’s late mother was born in 1972. I doubt many of Brynn’s generation even know how to operate a rotary phone (assuming they could still find one in working order). Given her Tyrone Power movie posters and anachronistic fashion choices, I almost expected Brynn to drive a Studebaker instead of a Subaru. The movie would’ve worked better as a period piece set in the 1950s or 1960s (see: 2020’s “The Vast of Night”). As is, it just feels achingly pretentious.
To his credit, writer/director Brian Duffield and cinematographer Aron Morton certainly know how to use the camera, as the movie’s visual artistry feels more like a demo reel for bigger, better future endeavors than a self-contained passion project. Using generous shafts of smoky light in as many scenes as possible, the bulk of this heavily-stylized yet thin survival story plays like a feature-length extrapolation of the child abduction sequence from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
To her considerable credit, Kaitlyn Dever makes for a solid lead, carrying much of the movie almost entirely without dialogue and with most of her strongest interactions involving visual effects. It’s an excellent, largely nonverbal performance. The many borrowed visual flourishes and the performance of Dever are easily the best things going on in this otherwise derivative sci-fi thriller. Given the buzz surrounding the film, it’s hard to say whether my expectations were too high or if the movie just failed to deliver on its considerable promise.
“No One Will Save You” is certainly a very stylized piece of work, but it’s cobbled together from so many other bits and pieces that it ultimately fails to find its own identity. This is a movie I would never see more than once.
Where To Watch
“No One Will Save You” is currently streaming exclusively on Hulu.