Stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic, with movie theatres closed and no restaurants to dine in, people have been spending more of their lives online. We're hooked on streaming services like Netflix and YouTube, and looking to connect with one another on social media outlets like Facebook and TikTok. To unplug in the world of today is to risk missing out - on jokes, on culture, on news. If aliens touched down today, would you really want to find out later than everybody on Twitter? It's a thought that writing/directing team (and real-life couple) Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson tap into with their timely science-fiction comedy 'Save Yourselves!'.
Su (Sunita Mani, Netflix's 'GLOW') and Jack (John Reynolds, TV's 'Search Party') are a 30-something millennial couple living in Brooklyn. He's a software developer, she is a personal assistant and they are, like a lot of other people, living in a computer-created bubble of their own making (they squabble about trivial things like Jack accidentally closing all of Su's tabs on her internet browser).
At a wedding, they catch up with Raph (Ben Sinclair), who quit his job as an investment banker to found a start-up company that creates eco-friendly surfboards inspired by whale tails. As the wine flows and the conversations deepen, Ralph offers to let Su and Jack use his grandfather's cabin near a lake upstate.
They decide to "detach" for a week, eschewing all digital communication as they (and their sourdough starter) head to the remote cabin in order to become "better people". There's lots of hiding iPhones and shouting for Alexa and Siri before the two begin to settle into their new surroundings. Drifting around a lily-pad-filled pond in a borrowed canoe and smoking weed, they begin to reconnect with nature and each other.
At the same time as Su and Jack have cut themselves off from the outside world, dangerous furry beings begin attacking the planet. These ethanol-guzzling aliens might look like harmless pouffé-like spheres - basically the opposite of the gnarly E.T.'s from 'A Quiet Place' - but they make quick work of human civilisation using their whip-like appendages, a la John Wyndham's 'The Day of the Triffids'.
Author J.G. Ballard anticipated the move to technological, rather than physical, sequestration. In a 1977 interview with Vogue, he described how every detail of our lives would be recorded and edited so the best representations of ourselves could "star in a continually unfolding domestic saga". Ballard was interested in social breakdown and what happens when the technological props we need to function as civilised beings are taken away from us. Many people think it's about time we rethought and unwound our dependency on technology. The process will probably be more gradual than it is in 'Save Yourselves!', but the film helps us better understand why it won't be easy or painless.
In 'Save Yourselves!', the heroes quarantine against the invasive threat sweeping the nation and decimating urban populations like New York City, while listening to voicemails from concerned relatives who don't know whether to believe what they heard on 'Fox & Friends'. Not only is there an imminent danger from the creatures, but the couple realises that their dependence on the internet has left them with "no skills" for survival. "Are we 'gun people'?" Jack gasps, horrified, as Su rummages around the cabin for a rifle. They begin to wonder if their reliance on gadgets and too much time spent living in an over-priced Brooklyn apartment might be holding them back from growing as people.
Tonal schizophrenia seems about right for human beings who react all sorts of ways to The End. The dialogue is admirably authentic, there are setups and payoffs, and numerous pieces of dialogue contain double meanings.
Terrific films like Don McKellar's 'Last Night', Lars Von Trier's 'Melancholia' and Abel Ferrara's '4:44 Last Day on Earth' speculated about the looming apocalypse, but from the fixed perspective of two or three characters with limited access to the outside world. Fischer and Eleanor Wilson do the same here, and it's a smart approach - it keeps the filmmakers from having to speculate too much on the chaos beyond their borders, because it's hard to do so without seeming banal and reductive.
For people of a certain age, Sunita Mani will always be the girl doing quirky dance moves in the 'Turn Down for What' music video, but 'Save Yourselves!' doesn't hinge on a depressive schlub/Manic Pixie Dream Girl fantasy pairing, like Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley in Lorene Scafaria's 'Seeking A Friend for The End of The World'. Not only do Mani and Reynolds turn in hilarious performances and unbridled energy, they also have great chemistry together, which makes all the insanity they have to deal with in the film feel somehow relatable.
Matt Clegg's cinematography gels perfectly with the modest (but impressive) special effects and shaggy dog storytelling. Fischer and Wilson have a lot to juggle with this film, and they manage to shift between a number of wildly diverging tones with ease - it's no easy feat to balance an off-kilter romantic comedy set against a potentially planet-destroying alien invasion. Yet tonal schizophrenia seems about right for human beings who react all sorts of ways to The End. The dialogue is admirably authentic, there are setups and payoffs, and numerous pieces of dialogue contain double meanings. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of Max Barbakow's recent 'Palm Springs' - a film which felt comforting and upbeat despite being about a couple of stunted adults grappling with a supernatural existential disaster.
Fischer and Wilson haven't imagined the apocalypse with the fullness of imagination it requires - much less the weight - perhaps because, like most comedies with a side of romance, 'Save Yourselves!' is supposed to go down easy. But there's real wisdom and honesty to the way this relationship plays out, as both characters struggle to get out of the literal and proverbial woods with some perspective. Despite the doom and gloom, 'Save Yourselves!' packs in a lot of laughs - and even a little hopefulness (depending on how you interpret its wonderfully thought-provoking ending).