2020 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: In our endlessly connected world, is it a good idea sometimes to simply disconnect? Get away? Live simply? It seems like the right answer, sure. But what happens if you go off the grid for a week, just as aliens invade Earth? That is the basis for “Save Yourselves!,” a horror comedy premiering this week at Sundance.
Su (Sunita Mani) and Jack (John Reynolds) have been together for years. But the technology designed to bring us all together increasingly pulls them apart. When they run into Jack’s friend Raph (Ben Sinclair) at a party, he regales them with stories of his globetrotting adventures. Sensing their need to get away, he invites them to use his mountain cabin for a week. They take him up on the offer, make a pact to turn off their phones and computers, and set off to commune with nature. And then the aliens arrive.
Written and directed by Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson, “Save Yourselves!” is laugh-out-loud funny and endlessly relatable. The opening scene, in which Su and Jack sit together on the sofa having a conversation while buried in their devices, is a perfect representation of today’s modern relationships. We spend so much time together with our friends and families, but how often are we really together?
One of the remarkable things about “Save Yourselves!” is the way it maintains its sense of humor from beginning to end. It is consistently funny, taking slight turns into deeper matters, but always finding the comedy in the moment. Mani and Reynolds have great timing and chemistry, feeling like exactly the type of people that would find themselves in this situation.
The script is silly and playful, building on the anxiety we all share that if we turn off our phones and step away from social media, we’ll miss something important. Fischer and Wilson don’t set out to make the case that completely avoiding technology is a perfect answer. Because, really, the world we live in relies on our ability to stay in touch.
A more important point, made with both witty dialogue and physical comedy, is the fact that we are so dependent on our devices and our players and our apps that we have lost the ability to fend for ourselves. After seeing a number of strange things they can’t explain, Jack and Su finally agree to turn on their phones to find answers. Text messages and voice mails start pouring in, and the couple slowly realizes they are in terrible danger. And they also realize they have absolutely no survival skills whatsoever. Watching them try to figure out how to start a fire, what to pack in their go-bags (“Would it have killed us to bring non-perishables?”), or attempting to operate a stick shift, it’s almost impossible to watch them struggle and not run through a mental inventory of our own skills.
And then there is the creature design. A lot of alien movies struggle when it comes to the actual aliens. Do you show them or not? What should they look like? One of the problems with showing a scary, killer alien is that our own imaginings are usually much scarier than anything a creature creator would come up with. And because this movie is a comedy, the look of the aliens needed to match the tone. The solution was something they call a “pouf,” which looks like a cross between a Wayfair footrest and a tribble. It’s just about the least terrifying thing you can imagine, and proves to be exactly the right creature for this feature. They are perfect for a horror comedy that is really about the comedy and is not at all scary.
“Save Yourselves!” is an unexpected delight. It is sure to join the ranks of other Sundance horror comedy gems like last year’s “Little Monsters” or “Grabbers” from 2012. Funny, smart, and wildly entertaining, be on the lookout for this one.