You can say a lot with just a facial expression. Lucky for Kaitlyn Dever, she’s such a good actor that she can express the deepest of emotions without a line of dialogue. This is her test for just that very talent, as Brian Duffield’s No One Will Save You is a chilly sci-fi thriller with barely any speaking lines. It’s a film that doubles down on the concept of visual storytelling. This sounds pretentious on paper, but the movie’s story and effects are so enveloping that you can forget that it’s been eons since a line was spoken. What tells the story is Brynn’s (Dever) smoldering sense of loneliness; castigated by the residents of her small town, for what we’re not yet sure. But it may have something to do with a deceased best friend and a long gone mother, both of whom leaving crater-sized holes in Brynn’s life and heart. The type of void that has just enough room for a spacecraft to make a safe landing.
The low-budget thriller may be the space invasion flick of the year, drumming up dread by isolating the protagonist. She has nary a friend; some of the people in town spit in her face. When the film finally leans towards introducing its extraterrestrial monsters, the suspense is intense while also leaving enough room for doubt. Maybe this is all in Brynn’s head? Duffield plays with what’s real and what is not, creating dream-like sequences that are visual treats for its handling of colors, stunt work, and well-timed slow motion. But these scenes also frustrate, as the movie intentionally causes you to question their canonization and the sanity of the protagonist.
The film is a mash up of the old school creature feature/alien invasion B movie, mixed with the more modern proclivity for horror films to put greater focus on the trauma of the protagonists rather than the outward fantastical threat of fictitious monsters. In a way, this is sort of a best of both worlds – fans of “Elevated Horror” get their harrowing flashback scenes, melancholic tone, and exploration of grief. Whereas fans who are looking for more excitement receive a multitude of setpieces to keep them satiated. I don’t think there are Oscars coming this movie’s way in regards to special effects, but for its budget and streaming status – the creatures here are eery, creepy, yet cunning and calculating. It makes escape seem like an impossibility as the monsters slowly stalk Brynn while also being equipped with an array of technological gadgets. Some of the film’s best moments are the tug of wars as a spaceship uses its tractor beam to kidnap its victim – the red glow appearing to be blissfully cosmic if it wasn’t also a death sentence.
Where the film could use some polishing is the depth of its story. Narratively, it’s a pretty light tale – no doubt a deliberate choice. But there are aspects of the backstory that you can piece together verbatim, even before those elements are revealed. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t change Duffield’s (who also wrote the screenplay) decision to make the film a largely wordless yarn. It’s a refreshing change of pace to see the movie just vibe, live in its mood, and have you follow along with the narrative via visual evidence and context clues.
Often, there were moments that I had forgotten that the characters weren’t speaking, and that’s largely a credit to a strong score, excellent sound design, and a nimble but desperate performance by Dever, who continues to display lead actor chops despite her most famous works coming in supporting or co-starring roles. A’la Tom Hanks in Cast Away (2000), you really have to be invested in an actor and their performance to be willing to spend so much time where they’re the only human on screen.
Dever imbues Brynn with charm, optimism, and tenacity. Scenes where she wistfully ropes herself in her own nostalgia are contrasted later with her spirited fight for survival. It’s a movie about ‘trauma’, the favorite word of the Elevated Horror Society. But there’s a reason why these stories keep getting retold, and there’s a few thematic similarities with the recent Talk To Me. No One Will Save You, like many of its ilk, spotlights a hero that isn’t always so good. As these stories languish in the trauma of regret, either of your own actions or something heinous enacted upon you, they become fables about one’s individual relationship with their own demons and sense of self.
The reason why Brynn and characters like her seem like they’re slowly walking in mud is a poor relationship with self-care, mental health, and forgiveness. But what do those things even mean in this context, and how can you find forgiveness if you truly believe you’ve fucked up? Duffield provides metaphor for the endless cycle of terror in one’s psyche by way of his inclusion of the little green body snatchers. Thus, narratively, No One Will Save You incentivizes the agency of one’s self in the face of the endless void, making personal vindication the difference between staying firm on the ground or getting sucked up into that big red beam.