When Eleanor Wilson and Alex Huston Fischer premiered Save Yourselves! at Sundance in January of this year, the events depicted may have seemed amusingly hyperbolic. When Brooklyn-based protagonists Jack and Su (played uproariously by John Reynolds and Sunita Mani) commit to a digital detox and escape to a friend’s cabin upstate for a few days, the world as they know it comes quickly and calamitously crashing down. Of course, as they’ve briefly sworn off all social media, they have no idea. A solidly funny idea on its own now plays as eerily prescient — the viewer will surely be reminded of experiences like Jared Leto’s, whose meditation retreat into the wilderness left him blissfully unaware of the pandemic’s path of destruction in mid-March. Thankfully, despite the relevance, Save Yourselves! is amusing enough to keep you from crying, and clever enough to concoct something enjoyable out of the end of the world.
The central idea originated when Wilson asked herself a simple question: what’s the worst that could happen if you turned off your phone, even for a little while? It’s something many of us must have contemplated when we decide here and there to give the screen time a rest. Surely, the thought process goes, nothing that major can happen? Shortly afterward, inevitably, we end up checking in, just in case. So goes the best-laid plans of Jack and Su, whose earnest attempt at disconnecting quickly demonstrates how little practical skill they possess, eventually prompting Su to sneak a peek at her feeds and discover what they’ve missed. Turns out, they missed a global alien invasion.
Before things get extraterrestrial, however, Save Yourselves! strikes a heck of a lot of nerves with its razor-sharp satire and brutal honesty regarding young adults today. Wilson and Fischer, who both write and direct, based Jack and Su’s relationship largely on their own, and the hilariously specific details demonstrate this dynamic from the beginning. When Su sings a little ditty about soap, Jack absent-mindedly converses while staring at his computer, or they just banter back and forth about the absurdities of their millennial lifestyle — viewers will recognize direct parallels with many a modern relationship. This section of the film is uncannily reminiscent of the series on which Reynolds gained notoriety, Search Party — in fact, one of the best ways to sum up Save Yourselves! would be Search Party, but with tribbles, the decades-old fan-favorite Star Trek beastie.
On that note, it’s not long before Jack and Su retreat up north, engage in some earnest but middling attempts at “authentic living,” and run into a disarmingly adorable alien species. Wilson and Fischer have an awful lot of fun with the middle third of the film, dousing every scene in heaps of dramatic irony. The aliens in question are indeed slightly larger versions of tribbles; but these sentient pouffes conceal a capacity for hilariously bloody violence under their immensely cute exterior. To the human eye, however, they simply resemble a fluffy ottoman, meaning Jack and Su think little of it when they notice a pouffe or two appearing in different places around the house. It’s easy to imagine Wilson and Fischer drawing inspiration from the beloved sequence in Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, in which the protagonist languidly moseys down the street, somehow unaware of the nightmarish catastrophe that has befallen society. The same joke is on full display here — until Su breaks their digital boundary, that is.
Unfortunately, once the hilarious and suspenseful spell of the silent invasion is broken, the film shifts gears into a lackluster escape plot which loses focus quickly. As Jack and Su gather themselves and attempt to resist the fuzzy aggressors, the film expands into the wider world but introduces some questionable developments upon doing so. The couple witnesses some shocking events, experiences a psychedelic episode, and takes on an unexpected companion — without spoiling the identity of this new presence, it’s a tired and overused device squeezed into too many adventure plots, and a serious distraction from the script’s stronger elements. In truth, though each of these plot points might have had the potential to lead the film into more interesting territory, all of them are essentially over before they begin, leaving the closing chapters of the story rushed and deflated.
That said, the very end is something to behold, and a relief from the odd plot missteps. Though not on par with the satire of Search Party or the adventure of more substantive sci-fi romps, this is an undeniably enjoyable, neat, clever comedy, with a message worth hearing. The heart and soul of Save Yourselves! lies not in the alien shenanigans but in a plea for compassion and a rally against selfishness of all kinds. This earnest film asks us to think of others more often, whether that means privileging face time over screen time, or simply asking what you can do to help fellow human beings in the face of global catastrophe — a theme hinted at within the film’s title.
Though they may not have known it when writing, filming, or premiering the movie, Wilson, Fischer, and all involved have raised questions we should all have been asking ourselves and each other throughout 2020. Though inconsistent in structure, Save Yourselves!‘s general effect may still commendably nudge one or two hearts in the right direction. For the pertinent politics, the charming performances, and the ingenious furry creatures featured, we can heartily recommend giving Save Yourselves! a spin.