One of the most inventive sci-fi films released by a mainstream outlet in recent memory, Brian Duffield’s “No One Will Save You” wastes little time before showing its audience that they’re watching something different. The film follows Brynn (Kaitlyn Dever), an agoraphobic young homebody who is perfectly content to hide out in her late mother’s ornate house to avoid confronting her traumas. But when faced with a break-in from an unexpected alien visitor, she’s forced to spring into defense mode to protect her home.
It would be natural to expect a lengthy chase sequence before building up to a final showdown that reveals the identity of her extraterrestrial assailant. But Duffield takes the opposite approach, placing Brynn face-to-face with a stereotypical grey alien in the film’s opening minutes. In an interview with IndieWire, Duffield explained why he decided to blow up the conventional alien invasion formula in the film’s opening minutes with the hope of creating something unique.
“I just wanted to do the thing you’re never supposed to do,” Duffield said. “A lot of alien movies end with ‘Oh here’s the alien!’ And they defeat it and you’re kind of… credits. I hadn’t seen a movie where these guys had traveled lightyears to get here and they’re hiding out. And I thought ‘If they came this far, walking into this girl’s house is not a big deal for them.’ It’s kind of like if we’re hiding from ants in our backyard. It doesn’t make sense in a galactic scale. So that was the impetus: they should just walk in and she should deal with this problem.”
The cat-and-mouse game that transpires between the aliens and Brynn is shaped by the details of the house that they walk into. Duffield’s largely dialogue-free script offered limited opportunities for exposition, so his design team took every opportunity to hide details about Brynn’s childhood in the set design.
“The house is the co-lead of the movie in a lot of ways,” he said. “It’s the thing she wants to protect, it’s the only thing she loves in this world, and it’s the thing that’s attacked. The most heartbreaking things that happen to her are when things are broken in the house, because she’s spent so long building this bubble for herself. It was great working with someone like (production designer Ramsey Avery), because he was able to build her little bubble and destroy it piece by piece.”
If you weren’t watching closely, you’d be forgiven for thinking that “No One Will Save You” is a period piece at first glance. Brynn lives in a carefully curated world of quaint antiques and exquisitely retro dresses — when she finally ventures out of her ’50s-inspired oasis, seeing her interact with laptops and Subarus is a jarring reminder that she lives in the 21st century.
“This is a girl that watches ‘Far From Heaven’ and is like ‘I wish I lived in that world,’” Duffield said. “And then was like ‘I’m gonna antique shop, I’m gonna build dresses, I’m gonna do all this stuff. I’m not gonna have relationships outside my world, so why can’t I live in a Douglas Sirk wannabe world?’ And then you see there’s a flat screen and a laptop and she drives out into the world and you see ‘Oh, this girl’s kooky.”
One of the most unique details in Brynn’s house is an elaborate miniature village made of birdhouses. On the surface, it’s a convenient prop for one of the film’s most amusing indoor set pieces. But Duffield explained that the village offers a look into Brynn’s relationship with her mother and the memories that she’s hell-bent on preserving. It’s one of the emotional keys to the film — but it only happened because his original plans to use a Lemax Halloween village were vetoed.
“I liked this idea that there was something she had started doing with her mom as a kid and kept doing,” Duffield said. “In the script, since it’s Halloween, it was originally Lemax houses, which are spooky little towns that you build. The idea is you buy one a year and can kind of build up this village. And then Lemax said no, because of something that happened with one of the houses. Which I was like “that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, because you’re a Halloween company and what happens with your product would be the coolest thing that ever happened. I was bummed and Ramsay was like ‘I think it should be birdhouses.’”
Not to be deterred, Duffield and Avery went back to the drawing board and came up with the idea of birdhouses. In addition to the village, they found a way to work the motif throughout the film as a way to connect Brynn to her mother and her alien adversaries.
“And (Avery) came up with this whole backstory between her mom and her and these birdhouses,” he said. “There’s birdhouses throughout the movie outside, you have to try and spot them. The idea was that she was also creating a world, and certain other characters were also trying to create a new world, and maybe there was something in common there.”
The film is filled with dazzling visual effects and intergalactic travel, but Duffield says he’s convinced that birdhouses might be the real key to understanding it.
“When you watch the movie again, there’s a lot in that birdhouse village that explains the movie,” he said.
“No One Will Save You” is now streaming on Hulu.