A clever and well-crafted alien invasion story that would have absolutely slayed in theaters if not for Disney’s choice to dump it straight to Hulu (the streaming era is nothing if not a golden age for self-sabotage), Brian Duffield’s “No One Will Save You” does something that no sci-fi horror movie ever has before: It makes it seem weird that its heroine isn’t constantly talking to herself. In fact, Brynn Adams — played by a game and ultra-expressive Kaitlyn Dever — hardly says a single word the entire film.
If the effect is similar to the classic “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” episode “Hush,” the reason for Brynn’s silence is not because she can’t speak, but rather because she doesn’t really have anyone to speak to. That’s just how she likes it. Perfectly content to live alone in an isolated house at the end of a long driveway on the outskirts of town, Brynn spends her days sewing dresses for her online clothing store and playing with the various birdhouses that she’s intricately transformed into a model village — an immaculate replacement for the harsher reality outside her window. She dances. She smiles. She makes the best of it.
An alien in her own world, Brynn only steps out of her front door to ship her wares and sit by her mother’s grave; in the rare instance when Brynn has to go to Main Street for a routine errand or because she wants to tell the police that a gray-skinned alien landed on her roof the previous night, seemingly nice people spit right in her face. What would compel them to do such a thing? Brynn isn’t telling us, and Duffield’s script — which proves surprisingly bold even in its most predictable reveals — waits until the last possible moment to show its cards.
As its title might suggest, “No One Will Save You” is much less shy about the rest of its agenda. The movie is only a few minutes old before Brynn has her first encounter with a chittering extraterrestrial (whose flying saucer and disc-like head are traditional in a way that seems designed to erase any lingering ambiguity over what it is and where it comes from), and it’s only a few minutes older before we understand that this telekinetic E.T. isn’t just a lost traveler looking to phone home.
Things get harried in a hurry, and while Duffield doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to the various “Home Alone”-like battles that pit Alien vs. Dever, the “Spontaneous” director stages them with rare aplomb and an unerring respect for the fact that Brynn’s house represents her entire universe (even just watching it on my couch, a bit involving Brynn’s refrigerator door had me leaping out of my seat).
Occasional trips beyond the confines of Brynn’s property suggest that Duffield has the vision to scale his stories to “event movie” size if a studio bothered to invest in his talent for revitalizing tired genres, but the long and wordless stretches that “No One Will Save You” spends inside its protagonist’s house are even more compelling for how expertly they dole out new information and dick around with old sci-fi tropes (I don’t think any other movie has ever had this much fun with tractor beams). Just when you think you have a good handle on where things might be going next, Duffield spins around and spears those expectations in the head with the spire of a miniature church.
Comparing this Hulu original to an IMAX-sized masterpiece like “Nope” won’t do it any favors, but “No One Will Save You” does a similarly effective job of narrativizing its aliens’ natural abilities, so that each spine-tingling new attribute feels like it’s moving the plot forward somehow (it helps that the CGI invaders generally move with the herky-jerkiness of stop-motion animation, which lends some extra weight to their pixels). That approach also allows Dever to develop Brynn into a three-dimensional character despite the fact that she doesn’t say anything, or even have all that much to say.
In keeping with the trauma fetishization of modern horror films, Duffield’s heroine is only as complex as the demons that his monsters force her to confront, though a few errant moments — including a genuinely beautiful moment of self-generosity — add nuance to what might have been an even more basic metaphor about the strength required to step outside the moral oblivion of our own darkest shadows. It’s true that no one will (or even could) save Brynn from the seemingly bottomless abyss of her own guilt, but it’s also true that she’s never even bothered trying to climb out. Just because no one is willing to throw her a rope doesn’t mean she has to die alone down there, least of all in a world where everyone is being replaced by the worst versions of themselves.
To that end, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that something as classically minded as “No One Will Save You” makes time for an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” subplot. If that decision feels like a hat on a hat (at least until Duffield reveals the icky mechanics of how it works), that’s only because it initially seems reverse-engineered from an excuse to keep the film’s dialogue to a bare minimum.
Effective as the movie’s wordless conceit might be at expressing Brynn’s emotional isolation (from other people, as well as from herself), there is something forced and even a little bit fraudulent about the almost complete lack of dialogue. The gimmick works in the abstract, and certainly makes the film more interesting on the whole, but a handful of crucial moments prove less immersive for the same point they’re trying to make: It’s hard to come in peace when everyone acts like you don’t belong on this planet. Fortunately, Duffield shares Brynn’s resourcefulness and determination, and he stays true to the spirit of his film until the bitter end of a story that never sacrifices an ounce of its integrity, even when it inevitably cops to the truth that dancing is never as fun when you have to do it alone.
“No One Will Save You” will be available to stream on Hulu starting Friday, September 22.