Producers: Tim White, Trevor White, Allan Mandelbaum and Brian Duffield Director: Brian Duffield Screenplay: Brian Duffield Cast: Kaitlyn Dever, Elizabeth Kaluev, Zack Duhame, Lauren Murray, Geraldine Singer, Dane Rhodes, Dari Lynn Griffin and Evangeline Rose Distributor: Hulu
Brian Duffield’s follow-up to “Spontaneous,” his 2020 debut as writer-director, is another twisty take on genre formula. At first “No One Will Save You” seems like a simple updating of the old “Twilight Zone” episode “The Invaders,” in which Agnes Moorehead played a solitary woman forced to defend herself against an visitor from space that attacked her house. Duffield even makes his much younger protagonist Brynn (Kaitlyn Dever), awakened by the intruder, speechless, as Moorehead was, taking a cue from “A Quiet Place” by having her suppress her gasps and try to control her steps as the creature, here a traditional extraterrestrial out of the “Close Encounters” playbook, scutters about the house looking for her. But she quickly becomes as determined and physical as Moorehead was in fighting it off, eventually killing it.
Brynn does not remain in her house for long, venturing out into the nearby town the next morning to ask for help. But she’s a local pariah, for reasons only gradually revealed—and then ambiguously; though she tries to connect with her neighbors, they shun her, and when she goes to the police station to report what’s happened, the chief (Dane Rhodes) and his wife (Geraldine Singer) treat her with a mixture of astonishment and contempt. They’re suffering with some unexplained grief for which they clearly hold Brynn responsible, and so she’s left to her own devices.
Brynn is grief-laden too, over the absence of her friend Maude (played as a youngster in flashbacks by Evangeline Rose and as a young woman by Dari Lynn Griffin, while Elizabeth Kaluev is young Brynn) and the recent death of her mother (Lauren Murray), with whom she was very close. To add to the oddity, Brynn lives a childlike life, decorating the home in which she now lives alone with doll houses and bright lights, as if the living space were an adolescent’s bedroom.
Now, though, she feels she must escape, and tries to take a bus out of town. But the passengers, including the strange local mailman (Zack Duhame), attack her, emitting frightening shrieks. It appears all have been possessed by the extraterrestrials, who that night return, reclaiming the corpse of their dead comrade and targeting Brynn. That leads to a further encounter that mixes her increasingly ferocious struggle to evade or kill them with the prospect that she, too, will become the victim of one of the crawling parasites the creatures exude to take over human hosts. And yet when the film closes, it’s with a weird celebration of local harmony in which Brynn joyfully participates, freed of her trauma, though under the watchful eyes of the invaders in their spaceships. Viewers must be left to decide for themselves what it all means, and whether it’s a happy ending or a ghastly one. “Spontaneous” also wound up in an emotional middle-ground, and some will find Duffield’s choice here even more frustratingly opaque and unsatisfying.
Yet despite its repetitiveness—the effort to add variety to the means Brynn employs against her pursuers gradually pales—and a last act that overindulges Duffield’s penchant for quirkiness—the movie remains fascinating as an imaginative take on a genre staple. It’s helped enormously by the virtuoso performance of Dever, who manages to make Brynn both peculiar and sympathetic, and dives into the action with complete abandon. Everyone else in the human cast is truly secondary—this comes almost as close to a one-person effort as Moorehead’s TZ turn was—but they do what’s demanded of them.
The really important co-stars are the aliens, and here the effects artists (a long list of whom is provided in the closing credits) have done an exceptional job. Though the design of the critters is hardly innovative, the realization is quite impressive, from the first glimpse of the creature’s feet to the employment of their full bodies in battle with Brynn. The other special effects—tractor beams and the like—are pretty conventional, but effective enough.
The rest of the behind-the-camera contributions are solid too, with Ramsey Avery’s fashioning of the house’s interior evocative, especially as shot in darkness and shadow by cinematographer Aaron Morton. Editor Gabriel Fleming keeps the action choreography fairly clear, and Joseph Trapanese’s score adds the requisite sense of foreboding, even if the foghorn rumbles have come to be a commonplace in such films.
“No One Will Save You” doesn’t possess the weird sauciness of “Spontaneous,” but that was based on a novel that already reveled in taking oddball narrative chances. Here Duffield has elected to follow a pretty well-established template, but despite that he’s fashioned a genre movie that, happily, isn’t simply generic. Whether all its divergences from the usual pattern work is another matter; but the riskiness is a virtue in itself.