No One Will Save You (2023)

Close encounters of the quiet kind

You know what’s scary? Trauma! This seems to be the thesis of most horror films these days, and now I suppose even alien invasion thrillers too. No One Can Save You, the latest genre mashup from Brian Duffield, writer-director of the unexpected teen zinger Spontaneous, is a flawed but fun high concept sci-fi film.

Brynn (Kaitlyn Dever) lives an isolated existence ever since the death of her mother and best friend Maude, the latter of which was caused by Brynn (a point obvious from the start, but still treated as a surprise in a flashback). The first two acts merely use this character development as psychological backdrop. It plays out as a tightly wound home invasion thriller, with uncanny, putty-faced aliens stalking a silent Brynn around her house. Duffield wrings genuine tension out of the setup, with several excellently-crafted sequences of Brynn struggling to evade her pursuers in dimly-lit rooms.

There is a gimmick to all of this. The script is completely dialogue-free. It’s Signs-meets-A Quiet Place. Brynn lives by herself and is ignored by the town so there’s no one to talk to her. And though she fills her house with music and a Marwen-esque world to play in, she remains 100% mute. Her silence becomes a kind of penance for her guilt.

Where the film really goes wild is in the gonzo third act, which features some provocative and squirm-inducing payoffs. There are multiple gut-wrenching moments, most memorably a red-lit probing scene that made me want to gag. Duffield is clearly in a throwing-spaghetti-against-the-wall mode here, lobbing a dozen zany images at the screen in the hopes that something will shock or provoke wonder.

Not every absurdist twist lands perfectly, and it hardly holds together. The film’s later shift into quasi-psychedelia doesn’t quite fit with the intimate sci-fi/thriller blend Duffield had carefully built. But there’s an admirable creative spirit here. Contrast this with the misfire Infinity Pool, whose third act “twists” are juvenile middle fingers to the audience and pseudo-intellectual nothings. Duffield pushes the boundary of coherence, but admirably so.

I frankly think Duffield boxed himself too tightly into a theme. Had he dispensed with the “trauma” character motivation and focused more broadly on Brynn’s fractured relationship with the outside world, the film might have flowed a bit better. The payoff would likely have felt more thoughtful and complete, similar to how Spontaneous built beautifully to its teenage apocalypse, my favorite movie scene of 2020.

Still, No One Can Save You works more often than it doesn’t. At the emotional center is an excellent Kaitlyn Dever, whose naturally offbeat energy makes her simultaneously believable as an awkward recluse and compelling as a classic “scream queen.” Her slightly gawky physicality and hugely expressive face make Brynn feel richer and more human than the typical thriller heroine.

It’s an inconsistent work containing genuine flashes of brilliance. Here’s hoping studios continue giving Duffield the money and freedom to swing for the fences. Even a minor sophomore slump contains more inspired ideas and energy than most thrillers manage at their best.

Is It Good?

Good (5/8)

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