Save Yourselves! is a movie that can’t live up to the exclamation point in its title and doesn’t really want to. This is a bog-standard quirky indie movie done as science fiction, and it doesn’t have enough craft or weight to convince me that it will stick around as long culturally as, say, Safety Not Guaranteed. It’s exactly what you would expect from this description, right down to how it whiffs the ending because it can’t commit to its plot or have the necessary depth to pull off wrapping up via theme alone. But it’s intermittently charming, with reasonably well-realized characterization of its two central characters, Su (Sunita Mani) and Jack (John Paul Reynolds), who are Brooklyn hipster cliches who then become more lived-in over the course of the story as they’re tested a little more. The movie strikes a balance of mining their types for jokes and taking them on their own terms.
It might be better if it were angrier or more satirical, but it would also, to be fair, be a completely different movie in a completely different genre. Right now, it’s meant to be perfectly encapsulated by “indie movie,” as a description, so if someone asked, “Do you want to watch an indie movie?” and you answered, “Yes,” without knowing anything more about it, you would be reasonably pleased by Save Yourselves. Until the ending, it does a pretty good job of being what it is, and it has some things going for it. Mani’s casting means this is less white than a lot of indie movies, which is a nice plus. The writing is sometimes psychologically incisive–Su and Jack get some reasonably organic, well-written conflicts, and Jack’s breakthrough about his own masculinity is genuinely insightful in terms of identifying how he’s his own worst problem. In short, he always tried to lean into a kind of “evolved,” progressive vision of being a man, but it’s partly just because he was always bad at traditionally masculine skills; his real problem, though, is that he’s also not good at practicing the values he’s chosen: he’s an extremely bad listener and knows it. That’s not a bad level of depth for something that usually just gets handled in buzzwords, and Jack’s revelation a) informs his character and b) is believable and succinct enough to feel real and save room for alien attacks.
The alien attacks also have some notably good elements. There’s something audaciously low-budget about the aliens being “pouffes,” like furry little footrests, and it makes it more surprising when they suddenly manifest proboscis tentacles that have the consistency of those sticky hands toys. The aliens eating ethanol at first just seems like a way to clue the temporarily off-the-grid couple into what’s happening, but it turns neatly plot-relevant when it comes to cars running on diesel. One of the best moments, however, comes down to an uncharacteristic grimness, when a woman robs Su and Jack of their truck at gunpoint, leaving them alone with the orphaned baby they stopped to help: “It’s not my baby,” she says, and in her willingness to hide through the pouffe-murder of the people she was hitching a ride with and abandon an infant in cold blood, we get a better glimpse of what the rest of the world has been dealing with while Su and Jack have been up in the woods.
Those good bits are still unavoidably dimmed by the shrug of the ending, the bad pacing (the movie’s ninety-three minutes long and could still be shorter), and the mumblecore-predictability of it all, but they’re still there. File this under “vaguely interested where the writer-director team, Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson, will go after this.” With a little more commitment to stakes and storytelling, they could get to where they deserved that exclamation point.